14 Rethinking Nation and Nationalism POMEPS

Rethinking Nation
and Nationalism
June 2, 2015
Kurds, state elites, and patterns of nationhood in Iraq and Turkey. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
By Serhun Al, University of Utah
Different faces of Turkish Islamic nationalism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
By Senem Aslan, Bates College
Iraqi Nationalism and the Iran-Iraq War. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
By Lisa Blaydes, Stanford University
The Islamic State and the politics of official narratives. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
By Laurie Brand, University of Southern California
Turkey’s secularization in reverse?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
By Kristin Fabbe, Claremont McKenna College
Do Jordan’s tribes challenge or strengthen the state?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
By Kristen Kao, UCLA
The identity politics of displacement in the Middle East. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
By Adam G. Lichtenheld, University of California, Berkeley
Lebanon’s national politics in the face of a changing region. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
By Christiana Parreira, Stanford University
Remembering Failed States in the Middle East. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
By David Siddhartha Patel, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University
From Jim Crow to ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement:’
The legal and soft barriers to equality and integration of citizen-Palestinians in Israel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
By Gershon Shafir, University of California, San Diego
Which borders will states fight for? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
By Nadav Shelef, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Whose Colonialism? The Contested Memory of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
By Meghan Tinsley, Boston University
Redefining the Kurdish nation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
By Nicole F. Watts, San Francisco State University
Sectarianism and authoritarianism in Kuwait. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
By Madeleine Wells, George Washington University
Islam and Islamists in the 2014 Tunisian elections. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
By Elizabeth L. Young, University of Michigan
Online Article Index
The Project on Middle East Political Science
The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) is a collaborative network that aims to increase the impact of political scientists
specializing in the study of the Middle East in the public sphere and in the academic community. POMEPS, directed by Marc Lynch, is
based at the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University and is supported by Carnegie Corporation of New
York and the Henry Luce Foundation. For more information, see http://www.pomeps.org.
ou couldn’t swing a dead imperialist last summer without hitting an essay about the unraveling
of the Sykes-Picot system in the Middle East. The bloody disintegration of Iraq and Syria
seemed to have finally ripped apart the borders created by the British and French governments in
the aftermath of World War I (even if the borders in question were actually forged at San Remo). It
wasn’t just the rise of the so-called Islamic State spanning and erasing the Syrian-Iraqi border. The
unprecedented, synchronized popular mobilization across borders during the early Arab uprisings of
2011 gave potent form to the ideals of transnational Arab political community supplanting the limits
of nation-states. As the uprisings turned darker and most of the democratic transitions failed, new
challengers to nation-states in the Middle East rose to the forefront: the Islamic State; the growing de
facto independence of Kurds across Iraq and Syria, with ramifications extending into Turkey and Iran;
the rise of sub-regional identities carried by heavily armed militias in failing states such as Yemen and
Libya; unprecedented forced displacement moving millions of people within and across borders; and
raging sectarianism dividing Sunnis and Shiites.
These developments have not had a singular effect on national identities, however. While some
states have collapsed, creating space for new subnational identities to challenge national cohesion,
most have retrenched into a fiercer form of authoritarianism. Egypt’s military coup, for instance,
has been sustained by the heavy-handed promotion of extreme nationalism. Many states in the Gulf
have drawn upon sectarianism to consolidate support for their regimes in ways that could have an
enduring impact on popular conceptions of national identity. Battles over the proper role of Islam
in public life have reshaped political discourse from Egypt and Turkey (see Senem Aslan and Kristin
Fabbe in this collection) and Tunisia (Elizabeth Young). Kurds imagine new political possibilities in
very different contexts, as Nicole Watts demonstrates from Halabja and Serhun Al demonstrates
through the historical experience of Turkey and Iraq.
In February, therefore, I convened a Project on Middle East Political Science symposium with Laurie
A. Brand at the University of Southern California to examine national identity in the face of such
challenges. Their essays have now been released as Rethinking Nation and Nationalism, a special issue
of POMEPS Studies.
The “Sykes-Picot” framing of recent events has not been completely fruitless. The recent deluge
of fascinating books timed to the centenary of World War I (including Eugene Rogan’s “Fall of the
Ottomans”, Leila Fawaz’s “A Land of Aching Hearts” and Kristian Ulrichsen’s “The First World War in
the Middle East”) make clear how profoundly those epochal events reshaped every dimension of the
society, economy and state of what became the Middle East. However, as Meghan Tinsley recounts,
Sykes-Picot itself is remembered and invoked very differently by competing political constituencies.
This framing also tells us little about the formation of states beyond the Levant. National struggles
against French settler-colonialism shaped North African nationalism in ways deeply divergent from
the experience of the Levant or, for that matter, from the process of state and nation formation in the
Gulf. Even in the Levant, those “artificial” states are nearly a hundred years old. They have engaged
in ambitious, if never perfectly successful, efforts to socialize their citizens into national identities
through educational systems, the media, national service, museums, festivals, public space and official
rhetoric. No wonder that, as Nadav Shelf shows, states are less likely to fight for land which has not
been fully incorporated into ideas of the national homeland.
The invocation of national identity might be taken to imply a singular identification with the nation,
but this has never been so simple. There has never been a shortage of challengers to regional nationstates, and a vast academic literature has examined national and transnational identity contestation
in the region. My first book detailed the complex ways in which Jordan’s national identity had
been publicly contested both at home and in the broader Arab public arena, a theme that has run
through much of my writing. National identities are typically only one of multiple identities. There
is no necessary contradiction between identifying as a Sunni Muslim, a member of a tribe, an Arab,
a Jordanian, a university professor and a mother, with each component of identity taking priority
at different times and for different reasons. Thus, it should not be surprising that the early Arab
uprisings were both national and transnational, local and regional. The first months of 2011 witnessed
extraordinary levels of transnational identification and mobilization, with Yemenis taking inspiration
from Tunisians as part of a shared Arab narrative. But even during such moments of pan-Arab
sentiment, the potency of national identity could be seen in the ostentatious waving of national flags
and chanting of national slogans by Egyptian and Jordanian protestors.
National identity also offered the material for the demonization of the protestors, whether in
regime discourse warning darkly of “foreign hands” behind the demonstrations or in the aggressive
response of “honorable citizens” to the protestors. Whether or not patriotism is the last refuge of
the scoundrel, it certainly proves useful for embattled regimes determined to rally popular support
against enemies at home and abroad. It should be no surprise, then, that the authoritarian backlash
against the Arab uprisings involved the appropriation of nationalist symbols and the attempt to
define popular challengers as aliens beyond the pale of the national community. Unreformed
state-dominated media sectors, so central to earlier state efforts to cultivate and promote national
identities, proved especially effective in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia at mobilizing this
nationalist resurgence.
One new way to research such questions of nation and nationalism is to use online behavior to
evaluate the intensity and the terms by which Arabs relate to one another. When Arabs talk politics
online, do state borders constitute meaningful national communities? Deen Freelon, Sean Aday and I
offer some intriguing new evidence about these interconnections in a recent article in the open access
journal Research and Politics. Using a dataset of every tweet including the word “Syria” in English
or Arabic over nearly three years—nearly 58 million tweets composed by almost 7 million unique
users—we constructed an index of “Arab Springiness” by extracting every mention of other Arab
countries. During 2011, roughly 30 percent of these tweets included at least one other Arab country,
with references spiking to an astonishing 41.5 percent in November. An additional 8 percent named
two or more countries (increasing to 15.5 percent in November), often linked together through shared
hashtags. However, after 2011, the “Arab Springiness” of Syria tweets sharply declined, with other
countries rarely being named more than 20 percent of the time and the number of multi-country
tweets dropping dramatically.
Using a similar dataset, Freelon, Aday and I trace persistent national clusters in the online discourse
about Syria and Egypt for a forthcoming study. Egyptians, Kuwaitis and Tunisians were indeed
tweeting about Syria, Yemen or Libya, but they were still mostly interacting with fellow nationals.
Especially in the early months of 2011, online citizens would identify with, closely observe, and draw
lessons from the experiences of other Arab countries, but they still mostly engaged with fellownationals on the issues confronting their own state. In later years, sectarian and religious identities
became more prominent, in line with events on the ground. For example, Kuwaitis still tweeted often
about Syria in 2012 and 2013, but the framing of those tweets shifted from politics to fundraising for
Syrian rebels. The data reveals not only cross-border networks linking together ideological, sectarian
or political groupings (Egyptian anti-Islamists and UAE politicians, Sunni Islamists around the Gulf,
Shiites across the Gulf and the Levant), but also persistent patterns of national conversation. Such
network analysis of the actual online behavior during and after the Arab uprisings helps to illustrate
the dynamic interaction between the national and the transnational.
Nations, then, are evolving and adapting under the pressures of the post-Arab uprisings but
have hardly faded. The intensity and depth of the challenge to these states drives both intense
new manifestations of nationalism and the emergence of intense new forms of subnational and
transnational identities. Thus, sectarianism surges in a shattered Syria or Iraq, while hypernationalism
flourishes in a post-coup Egypt. This could well lead to the creation of new national identities or to the
resurrection of national identities from the dead and forgotten would-be states of which David Patel
reminds us. Either way, these new identity projects are refracted through national communities that,
after decades of institutionalization, continue to structure politics, anchor networks and shape the
political imaginary.
Marc Lynch, Director of POMEPS
June 2, 2015
Kurds, state elites, and patterns of nationhood in Iraq and Turkey
By Serhun Al, University of Utah
Post-Ottoman Iraq and Two Visions of Nationhood
Today, both Iraq and Turkey falter with the dilemma
of accommodating their Kurdish populations into the
common national community on the one hand and
preventing any current and future risks of territorial loss
and ethnic violence on the other. Turkey’s limping peace
process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and
Iraq’s unsteady relations with the Kurdistan Regional
Government (KRG) reflect the unintended consequences
of these states’ nation-building strategies in their postOttoman eras. While modern Iraqi national identity
was mostly affiliated with Arab identity by state elites
throughout the 20th century, the monolithic construction
of Turkish national identity lacked any space for the
expression of Kurdish identity in the public sphere. As
the gradual partition and the final demise of the Ottoman
Empire occurred amidst wars and conflicts over identity
claim-makings by a variety of external powers and internal
communities, the quest for an appropriate nationhood has
become a question of ontological (in)security for the postOttoman state elites in Iraq and Turkey.
Historically, there have been two major competing visions
of Iraqiness. The first is Iraqi patriotism (wataniya), which
is more favorable to cultural diversity since it promotes an
overarching Iraqi identity without prioritizing the Arab
culture, history, and language. This approach crosscuts group
identities such as Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis in order to
strengthen a sense of belonging to the Iraqi state rather than
to a particularistic collective group. The second vision of Iraqi
nationhood is based on Arab nationalism (qawmiyya), which
envisions a homogenous nation by placing Arab identity as
the dominant marker of the state in addition to the pan-Arab
unity with other states in the region.1
During the British mandate (until 1932) and under the
monarchical rule (1921-1958), Iraq was governed by
the Arab Hashemite dynasty, which primarily idealized
an (Sunni) Arab state especially through the means of
public education and army.2 The ruling elites of the Iraqi
monarchy were intermittently challenged by tribal Kurdish
opposition such as the Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji uprisings
in the 1920s and the Kurdish revolt by Mullah Mustafa
Barzani in 1943 that later led to the foundation of the
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in 1946. These antistate challenges reinforced the securitization of Kurdish
identity on the one hand and the concern for the security
of the state on the other.
Thus, the cycle of construction, persistence, and change of
modern Iraqi and Turkish national identities, particularly
in relation to the competing modern Kurdish identity,
entails analytical and theoretical exploration in the sense of
revealing what actually motivates state elites in accepting
or rejecting an identity category other than the one defined
by the state. Challenging the conventional security versus
liberty dichotomy as a mutually exclusive policy options
in dealing with minority identities, this article argues in a
macro-historical trajectory that the logic of state elites in
Iraq and Turkey in granting liberty for the Kurdish identity
has also been primarily motivated by the state security.
Thus, liberty itself has functioned as an instrument for the
security of the state in the sense of protecting the territorial
integrity and preventing future anti-state uprisings.
It was only after the regime change in 1958 under
the leadership of General Abd al-Karim Qasim who
established the republic that patriotic Iraqi identity was
endorsed. The new constitution of 1958 recognized Kurds
and Arabs as the equal partners of the Iraqi state. This
1 Eric Davis (2005). Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective
Identity in Modern Iraq. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2 Eli Amarilyo (2015) “History, Memory and Commemoration:
The Iraqi Revolution of 1920 and the Process of Nation Building in
Iraq,” Middle Eastern Studies, 51:1, 72-92.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
paradigmatic policy change toward Iraqi nationhood was
not independent of the transnational context of other anticolonial liberation movements as it was in tandem with
socialist worldviews in the bipolar world of the Cold War.3
Due to this anti-colonial nature of the new regime, panArabists also showed some support to Qasim. However,
their reference of national development was Gamal
Abdel Nasser of Egypt whose policies were fostering
pan-Arab unity as seen in the short-lived United Arab
Republic of Egypt and Syria (1958-1961). On the other
hand, Qasim and his core coalition of power consisted of
Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), Kurds and other non-Arab
communities who were not in favor of pan-Arabism.4
regime was voluntarily ready to leave northern Iraq to
the control of the Kurds in order to survive the regime
in the rest of the country.6 It was only after the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq in 2003 that the Baath regime was toppled
and the de facto Kurdish autonomy became officially and
constitutionally secured.
Turkey’s Puzzle between Ottoman Future/Past and
Kemalist Past/Future
Post-Ottoman Turkey has also become a site of competing
visions of collective identity for building the ideal nation.
There have been basically two powerful currents. The
first and historically dominant one has been the founding
ideology of Kemalism. which envisioned a strictly
secular, linguistically homogenous nation which would
culturally face towards Europe. The collective memory
building was mostly based on rejecting the Ottoman past
which was seen as ‘backward’, ‘despotic’, and culturally
too heterogonous. Especially the idea of ethnically
heterogeneous society was seen as the main reason behind
a weak state. A strong state for the republican founding
elites was possible only through a homogenous nation and
a unitary state. This Kemalist worldview became the raison
d’état throughout the twentieth century under the firm
protectorate of the military.
Despite the inter-ethnic euphoria of the 1958 revolution,
the rule of Qasim was far from stable and sustainable since
pan-Arabists, especially through their influence in the
military, functioned as veto players to the development of
Iraqi patriotism. Besides, demands for Kurdish autonomy
by KDP would hardly find support from pro-Qasim
supporters. Thus, the Baghdad-Kurdish conflict broke out
again in 1961. Qasim and many of his supporters were
removed from government by the Baath party in 1963, yet
the Baathists could only control the state in 1968.5 Amidst
these chaotic decades of elite changes, military coups, and
power struggles, the pan-Arabist Baath Party gradually
consolidated its power along with the rise of Saddam
Hussein to the presidency in 1979. In between, two
accommodation attempts with Kurdish opposition failed
that proposed autonomy and national rights for the Kurds
(e.g., al-Bazzaz Declaration of June 29 in 1966 and the
Manifesto of March 1970). These attempts were more an
outcome of security-driven concerns of the ruling elites
in the sense that both territorial integrity of the state and
survival of the regime would be at risk unless the strong
Kurdish opposition in northern Iraq was appeased. For
instance, even after the Gulf War (1990-1991), Saddam’s
The second discourse of nationhood, which has become
hegemonic by the ruling Justice and Development Party
(AKP) since 2002, envisions a nation with Ottoman
nostalgia and neo-Ottoman future along with Islamic
undertones.7 Under this framework, public expression
of the Kurdish identity has found more refuge due to the
emphasis on the overarching Muslim identity on the one
hand and the common Ottoman heritage on the other.
This is why the AKP government since 2002 has uttered
the notion of “new Turkey” to make a sharp distinction
3 Orit Bashkin. (2011). “Hybrid Nationalisms: Watani and Qawmi
Visions In Iraq under ‘Abd Al-Karim Qasim, 1958–61,” IJMES 43, No. 2,
4 Sami Zubaida (2002). “The Fragments Imagine the Nation: The Case
of Iraq,” IJMES 34, 205-215.
6 Burak Kadercan (2013). “Making Sense of Survival: Refining the
Treatment of State Preferences in Neorealist Theory,” Review of
International Studies, 39 (4): 1005-1037.
5 Marion Farouk-Sluglett and Peter Sluglett (2003). Iraq Since 1958:
From Revolution to Dictatorship. New York: I.B. Tauris.
7 Jenny White (2012). Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
with the old regime.8 Recent steps such as state promotion
of the Kurdish TV channel, the foundation of living
languages institute, and the ease on the public expression
of Kurdish identity have led to the de facto recognition of
the Kurds by the state.9 Additionally, the recent ambiguous
peace process with the PKK has become the most efficient
propaganda apparatus of AKP’s ‘new Turkey.’
name of national security. However, what is interesting is
that both exclusionary and inclusionary policies have been
primarily motivated by state security concerns rather than
rights-based concerns. As the Kurdish opposition in Iraq
has historically been more threatening (or more beneficial)
to the central state and survival of particular regimes,
fluctuations between carrot and stick policies seem to be
more frequent throughout the twentieth century than that
of in Turkey. When exclusion and repression was thought
to be more useful to secure the central state, regime power,
and territorial integrity, the framework of the Iraqi nation
(more pan-Arabist) was adjusted accordingly. However,
when appeasement and accommodation was considered
to be serving the state security and particular regimes,
Iraq was envisioned more as a land of both Arabs and
Kurds. Similarly, if the Kurdish identity has been de facto
recognized in Turkey after the 2000s, it is mostly because
the status quo policy throughout the 20th century has
itself become a threat to the security of the state (devletin
It was within these two visions of nationhood in the postOttoman Turkey that the boundaries of inclusion and
exclusion have become a contested zone. In the first two
decades of the Republic, tribal Kurdish uprisings were
harshly suppressed (e.g., Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925,
Agri rebellion in 1930, and Dersim rebellion in 1937-38).
The possibility of an independent Kurdish state as stated
in the “infamous” Treaty of Sevres in 1920 along with local
uprisings convinced the founding elites of the Turkish
Republic that any recognition of Kurdish identity would
endanger the territorial integrity of this newly established
post-Ottoman state. As a reaction, the politicization of the
Kurdish identity and mass-mobilization of pro-Kurdish
political movement in Turkey has been a late-comer
compared to the Iraqi Kurds. Until the late 1980s, there
was neither a strong, well-organized, externally networked
party such as the KDP nor a national figure like Mullah
Mustafa Barzani. The rise of the PKK, the personality cult
of Abdullah Ocalan as its founder, and pro-Kurdish legal
parties constituted the major challenge to the Turkish state
after the 1980s.10
In other words, state elites have been more pragmatic
and strategic actors than blindfolded nationalists or
wholehearted democrats. Overall, either in excluding
Kurds from the narratives of nationhood or incorporating
them within the boundaries of nationhood, the logic of
the state elites in Iraq and in Turkey has been primarily
based on securing the state from potential territorial
disintegration and anti-state oppositions. Then, the
conventional dichotomy of security versus liberty should
not be necessarily seen mutually exclusive in this context
since liberty is an instrument of security as well. Unless this
security pattern is overcome, distrust rather than mutual
assurance is more likely to prevail between the state actors
and non-state ethnic agents in Iraq and in Turkey.
Patterns of Nationhood and the Logic of the State Elites
If one looks at the ebbs and flows within the boundaries
of nationhood in these two states, there seems to be a
common pattern of policy change toward the Kurds in the
Serhun Al is a PhD candidate in the department of
political science at the University of Utah.
8 M. Hakan Yavuz, Ed. (2006). The Emergence of New Turkey:
Democracy and AK Parti. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
9 Serhun Al (2015). “Elite Discourses, Nationalism and
Moderation: A Dialectical Analysis of Turkish and Kurdish
Nationalisms,” Ethnopolitics, 14 (1): 94-112.
10 Serhun Al (2015). “Local Armed Uprisings and the
Transnational Image of Claim Making: The Kurds of
Turkey and the Zapatistas of Mexico in Comparative
Perspective,” Globalizations, DOI:10.1080/14747731.2014.991541.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Different faces of Turkish Islamic nationalism
By Senem Aslan, Bates College
This piece appeared on The Monkey Cage on
February 20, 2015.
with the AKP government, supporting a number of its
key policies, most importantly the weakening of the
power of the military and secularist judiciary. Many have
alleged that the Gulenists have come to dominate many
cadres in the state bureaucracy, particularly the police
and the judiciary, making them a significant political
force to reckon with in Turkish politics. Today the AKP
government accuses the movement of forming a parallel
organization within the state to capture state authority.
Since the corruption probe the government has purged
hundreds of alleged Gulenists from the cadres of the police
and the judiciary.
On Dec. 17, 2013, Turkish prosecutors started a corruption
investigation into the activities of the sons of three
ministers of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government, businessmen close to the government, and
bureaucrats. The corruption allegations later included
then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after
wiretapped telephone conversations between Erdogan and
his son about hiding large sums of cash were leaked on the
Internet. The prosecutors were believed to be followers
of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar who lives in selfimposed exile in Pennsylvania.
In the past decade, scholars have noted the rise of a
different conception of Turkish nationalism, called Muslim
or Islamic nationalism, which has led to a transformative
shift in the official state discourse. The AKP and the
Gulen movement share some broad tenets of Muslim
nationalism. Challenging the secular and Westernist
character of Kemalist nationalism, they emphasize Muslim
identity as the key element in defining Turkishness.
Accordingly, the ideal Turk should have a strong moral
character informed by Sunni Islamic values. They criticize
Kemalist nationalists for being elitist and imitative, forcing
people to change their authentic selves in the name of
Westernization. Muslim nationalists endorse this strong
discourse of victimhood and present themselves as the
genuine representatives of the Turkish nation. Building on
this sense of victimhood, they hold Kemalist nationalists
responsible for Turkey’s loss of status in the international
arena, attributing it to the defensive and inward-looking
character of Kemalist nationalism. Instead, Muslim
nationalists imagine Turkey to be a major world power,
guided by an assertive and ambitious foreign policy that
rests on building Turkey’s soft power and economic
strength. They associate national pride with economic
success and desire that Turkey play a leadership role,
particularly in the Muslim world.
The scandal exposed a conflict between two longtime
Islamist allies, the AKP and the Gulen movement, which
has rapidly reshaped the Turkish political scene. Many
analysts have argued that the rift emerged from a power
struggle. Erdogan was threatened by the growing influence
of Gulenists within the state while the Gulenists were
concerned about Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism
and personalization of power. While there is certainly
something to this, there are also deeper reasons for the
schism. The AKP-Gulen conflict also resulted from an
ideological clash about the nature of the relationship
between Islam and Turkish nationalism.
The AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, is typically
described as a moderately Islamist party. The less
well-understood Gulen movement is Turkey’s most
influential and internationally active religious network.
The community refers to itself as the Hizmet (service)
movement, encompassing a large commercial, media and
education network, inspired by the teachings of Fethullah
Gulen. Although Gulenists portray themselves as members
of an apolitical, civil movement, this image is misleading.
The movement has been an influential player in Turkish
politics since the late 1980s. In the 2000s, it openly allied
Such commonalities aside, there have been significant
disagreements between the AKP and the Gulen
movement. It is true that these two groups’ nationalist
discourses can be fluid, and at times multi-vocal. Unlike
the Gulen movement, the AKP is subject to the pressures
of electoral politics. The Gulen movement’s discourse can
be inconsistent, partly because what its representatives say
or do in their “window sites” can differ from what they say
or do in private. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify the
broad points of contention.
In that sense, the AKP holds on to a more universalistIslamist perspective. It is nationalist because it imagines
a Turkey-centered Muslim world but the Muslim identity
is more dominant in its conception of the Turkish nation
than a unique Turkish ethnic identity. Erdogan’s special
interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his outright
support of activists who tried to bring humanitarian aid
to Gaza in violation of Israel’s naval blockade in 2010 were
informed by his Muslimhood-centered nationalism. In
contrast, Gulen criticized the initiative for violating Israel’s
sovereignty. The disagreement between the AKP and
Gulen in fact first revealed itself during the Gaza flotilla
The most important difference between the Gulen
movement and the AKP is that while the first advocates
an ethno-cultural understanding of Turkishness, the
latter prioritizes Muslim identity over ethnic identity.
Fethullah Gulen is a leading advocate of the TurkishIslamic synthesis, endorsing the view that Turkish Islam is
unique and superior to the Islam of other ethnic groups.
According to this view, Islam did not come to the Turkish
world from the Arabs but came to Anatolia from Central
Asia by way of Sufi dervishes. This Sufi connection
makes Turkish Islam more moderate, tolerant and open
to interpretation and change than the Arab and Persian
forms of Islam, which are more prone to radicalization.
Gulen emphasizes the importance of Turkey’s cooperation
with the Central Asian countries to create a strong
Turkic world. In his schools that are spread all around the
world, his followers try to familiarize their students with
Turkish-Islamic morality and culture, teaching them the
Turkish language and history. In Gulen’s writings and the
movement’s spectacles, such as the Turkish Language
Olympiads, the central emphasis has been on exalting and
praising the culture of Turkish Anatolia.
This divergence in their nationalist perspectives has
important implications for their relations with minorities
in Turkey, particularly the Kurds. While both groups use
the discourse of Muslim brotherhood as a bond between
the Turks and the Kurds, the AKP has endorsed a more
pragmatic approach toward the resolution of the Kurdish
problem. In his speeches, particularly those in the Kurdish
provinces, now-President Erdogan frequently brings up
the concept of citizenship, downplaying the discourse of
ethnic Turkish identity. The AKP government’s recognition
of many Kurdish linguistic and cultural rights and its
negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
have faced the Gulen community’s opposition. What
crystallized the rift between the two former allies were
their clashing views about the Kurdish question. The
movement has been much less compromising toward
Kurdish nationalism. The movement sees the resolution
of the Kurdish conflict through the recognition of Kurdish
linguistic rights (with elective Kurdish classes in schools)
and the provision of more social services to the Kurdish
areas but stops short of any negotiations with the PKK
and its affiliated groups. It refrains from forming relations
with Kurdish nationalists and supports military solutions
to end the insurgency. The pro-Gulen television channel,
Samanyolu, is noted for its militaristic and nationalist
TV series. Because of its heavy emphasis on Turkish
nationalism, the Gulen movement has not been popular
with Kurdish activists. Many believe that the movement
was behind the mass arrests of pro-Kurdish activists.
For the AKP, on the other hand, the main points of
reference are Ottoman and Islamic history. The AKP’s
symbolic capital rests heavily on Ottoman and Islamic
references as seen, for instance, in the official celebrations
of the conquest of Istanbul or the prophet Muhammad’s
birthday. The AKP’s nationalist view downplays the role
of ethnicity. It does not emphasize a hierarchy of nations
within the Muslim world and does not contain a critical
discourse about other Sunni-Muslim ethnic groups.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Starting in 2009, thousands of journalists, politicians,
mayors and publishers were arrested because of their
alleged membership in the KCK, the urban, political wing
of the PKK. While the movement has opened several
schools in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast as well as in Iraq’s
Kurdish autonomous region, Kurdish activists have
perceived these schools as institutions of assimilation.
weight of its Islamist tradition. The defiant, conspiratorial
discourse of Erdogan, accusing the West, Zionists,
secularists and non-Muslims during and after the 2013
Gezi protests, and his derogatory remarks about Jews and
Armenians have recently made hate speech against nonMuslims more visible and ordinary in the public space. For
example, in an interview, Erdogan stated: “Let all Turks in
Turkey say they are Turks and all Kurds say they are Kurds.
What is wrong with that? You wouldn’t believe the things
they have said about me. They have said I am Georgian.
Excuse me, but they have said even uglier things. They
have called me Armenian, but I am Turkish.”
Unlike its relations with the Kurds, however, the
movement has had closer relations with the leaders of
Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, such as the Greek
Orthodox and Jewish communities. Since the 1990s,
the movement’s Journalists and Writers Foundation
has organized meetings on interfaith dialogue, bringing
religious minority leaders together. The Gulen movement’s
public face has nurtured a discourse of religious tolerance
and engagement and boasted of helping non-Muslim
communities solve their daily problems resulting from
social prejudices.
The analyses of Muslim nationalism in Turkey have largely
ignored the conflicting trends within the Islamic discourse
about Turkish national identity. Like Kemalists, Muslim
nationalists have not been coherent and monolithic
nor have they necessarily endorsed a more inclusive
understanding of Turkishness. The two main constructions
of Muslim nationalism have been exclusivist and intolerant
of diversity, but in different ways. How the conflict between
the movement and the AKP will be resolved is still not very
clear. But the way it is resolved and the upcoming general
elections in June will have serious implications for Turkey’s
democracy, social peace and relations with minorities.
The AKP, on the other hand, has had a more distanced
relationship with Turkey’s non-Muslims. Despite pressures
from the European Union, it refrained from addressing the
major problems of Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities. While
it undertook legal reforms to ameliorate the institutional
autonomy and property rights of non-Muslim minorities,
it dragged its feet to enforce these changes. Particularly
at times of political challenge, the spontaneity and ease
with which the AKP’s rhetoric can take an anti-Westernist,
anti-Christian or anti-Semitic tone underline the stronger
Senem Aslan is assistant professor in the Department of
Politics at Bates College. She is the author of “NationBuilding in Turkey and Morocco: Governing Kurdish and
Berber Dissent” (Cambridge University Press, 2014). 11
Iraqi Nationalism and the Iran-Iraq War
By Lisa Blaydes, Stanford University
Who bears the costs associated with the foreign policy
decisions of dictators? And to what extent are the burdens
of war borne by particular ethnic groups in a multi-ethnic
society? Using internal Iraqi government documents
amassed in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, I
address the following three questions: 1) which ethnic
groups within Iraq bore the greatest burden associated
with Iran-Iraq War causalities, 2) how did the regime of
then-President Saddam Hussein try to deal with declining
citizen and soldier morale as a result of the tremendous
human, and other, losses associated with the war, and 3)
how can scholars weigh the net impact of war causalities
versus government efforts at morale boosting on overall
levels of nationalist sentiment across Iraqi ethno-sectarian
groups in the years following the conflict?
greater extent with the Iranians? Chubin and Tripp discuss
a variety of relevant factors including the fact that there
did not exist a “distinct community” of Iraqi Shiites given
the many differences within the community, particularly
tribal and occupational variation.2 This has led analysts to
argue that Iraq’s Shiites “were not automatic enemies of the
regime.”3 Indeed, according to Johnson, Shiite Iraqis were
largely unsympathetic to then-Supreme Leader of Iran
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and may have feared Shiite
Islamist organization that could bring violence to their
The war had a very different impact on Iraq’s Kurdish
population. At the start of the Iran-Iraq War, animosity
between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) gave the Saddam
regime confidence that Kurdish factions were so busy
fighting each other that they would not pose a challenge
to regime interests.5 The Iranian offensive into Kurdistan
in 1983, however, changed the value of Kurdish loyalty
and resistance. When the KDP assisted Iranian forces, the
regime “vanished” over 8,000 civilians affiliated with the
Barzani tribe.6 The PUK was engaged in negotiations with
the Saddam regime in 1983 and 1984; these negotiations
ultimately broke down, however, when the group failed
to obtain the primary objectives of political autonomy
and fixed oil revenue.7 Eventually both groups came to
be engaged in harassment of Iraqi forces, at times with
assistance from the Iranians (Chubin and Tripp 1988,
106). By 1985, the regime had lost control of the Kurdish
countryside to the Kurdish Peshmerga, but it was able to
To preview the main findings, I show that Shiite Iraqis were
more likely than their Sunni counterparts – and much more
likely than Iraqi Kurds – to have been killed, have become
prisoners of war, or have gone missing in action during
the first half of the Iran-Iraq War. Government efforts to
counteract declining citizen morale during the course of
the war took a number of forms, including compensation
for families of fallen soldiers, educational programs,
and symbolic displays. I argue that despite expending
considerable political and material capital in response to
concerns about morale, the differential war costs significantly
hurt national sentiment and laid the groundwork for the
uprisings that were to take place in 1991.
Identity, Conflict, and Nationalism
Despite initial fears within the Saddam regime about Iraqi
Shiites defecting to the Iranian side, this did not turn out
to be major source of concern for the regime during the
course of the conflict.1 Why didn’t Iraqi Shiites identify to a
2 Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War: 99
3 Johnson, Rob. 2011. The Iran-Iraq War. London: Palgrave Macmillan:
4 Johnson, The Iran-Iraq War: 122
5 Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War: 105
6 Kirmanj, Sherko. 2013. Identity and Nation in Iraq. Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner: 144
1 Chubin, Shahram and Charles Tripp. 1988. Iran and Iraq at War.
London: I.B. Tauris and Co.: 98
7 Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War: 106
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
retain influence in northern towns and cities.8
regime. In the early years of the war, when Iraq was still
flush with oil revenue, Saddam recognized the hardship
associated with war casualties. Families of fallen soldiers
received thousands of dinars and a car – originally a
Toyota Corona and, later, the less expensive Volkswagen
Passat.11 Negative inducements were also common. During
the war, party members who exhibited cowardice might
be forced out of the party and have their party-related
privileges taken away from them. One memorandum
describes those benefits as including special loans and
contracts, life insurance benefits, housing, health care, the
right to travel, acceptance into colleges or institutions of
higher learning, the right to facilitate tourism investment,
and licenses to work with foreign companies in Iraq.12
This memorandum is interesting in multiple ways. First,
it makes clear the myriad of benefits party membership
awarded Iraqis during the early 1980s, particularly access
to opportunities that were not widely shared in lucrative
industries and scarce benefits. But it also suggests that
cowardice in the war might lead these privileges to be
taken away if dismissed from the party.
The Human Cost of War
Data about war causalities in the first four years of the IranIraq War were found in a series of internal Iraqi government
memoranda that provide province, and in some cases,
district or village-level information on three dimensions:
number of individuals killed, number missing in action
(MIA) and number taken as prisoners of war (POW).9 These
memoranda were dated October 1984. Khoury has argued
that after 1984-5 desertions among rank-and-file members
of the Iraqi military increased exponentially,10 suggesting
that the casualty estimates generated in October 1984 would
not be highly impacted by desertions. In order to calculate
the number of causalities per capita, I calculate a weighted
average of the 1977 and 1987 province-level population
estimates from the Iraq census.
Southern provinces, which are predominantly Shiite, saw
an average of 4.9 individuals killed per 1,000 individuals
in the province population. In northern Iraq, which has
a large Kurdish population, the average was only 1.7 per
1,000. For the central provinces of Salah al-Din and Diyala,
predominantly but not exclusively Sunni provinces, the
average number killed was 2.4 per 1,000 and for Anbar
province in the Sunni west, the rate was 2.7 per 1,000. The
number killed, MIA, or POW for southern provinces was
11.0 individuals per 1,000 compared to 3.7 in the north.
Salah al-Din and Diyala averaged 5.7 killed, MIA, or POW
per 1,000 while that figure was 6.2 in Anbar. This suggests
that the predominantly Shiite southern areas of Iraq not
only saw higher rates of war deaths but also more MIA and
POW soldiers. The Kurdish areas saw the lowest number
killed, missing, or taken prisoner.
A variety of Baath Party memoranda describe the
challenges associated with improving morale on the part
of citizens and soldiers during a period of large and rising
number of casualties. For example, one January 1983
memorandum from northern Iraq describes meetings with
Kurdish Special Forces fighters with the goal of making
the fighters feel more confident and less hesitant about
their participation in policing the North and fighting
the Iranians.13 During the meeting, Baath Party officials
emphasized that the Iraqis had destroyed the Iranian war
machine despite Iran’s much larger population. The goal
was to suggest that small groups of saboteurs would not
stand a chance in impacting the stability of the Iraqi state.
Party officials further emphasized that detachments that
fought with honor and courage on behalf of national safety
and sovereignty would never be abandoned or forgotten,
nor would their children and families be forgotten or
abandoned. In these meetings, it was emphasized that one
The Regime Response
Maintaining the morale of both the population and the
army itself became an important priority of the Saddam
8 Kirmanj, Identity and Nation in Iraq: 145
11 Bashir, Ala. 2005. The Insider: Trapped in Saddam’s Brutal Regime.
London: Abacus: 59
9 See BRCC Boxfile 01-2202-0003.
12 BRCC Doc. No. 01-3388-0001-0171, January 18 1982.
10 Khoury, Dina Rizk. 2013. Iraq in Wartime: Soldiering, Martyrdom,
and Remembrance. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press: 73
13 Iraqi Politics Files (Boulder) Doc. Nos. 30703 to 05, January 11 1983.
should only listen to official government mouthpieces and
avoid saboteur propaganda.
casualty rates than either Arab Sunni or Kurdish Iraqis.
This differential war burden exists not only for deaths but
also for MIA and POW status.
In general, problems of morale among the rank and file
were considered to be more common than within the officer
corps. According to the internal analysis, problem soldiers
fell into five major categories: 1) those politically affiliated
with the opposition, 2) those who pursue their own agendas
even if not affiliated with the opposition, 3) those who
are hesitant, confused, and lacking in determination, 4)
those who are completely ignorant, driven only by survival
instincts, and 5) those who prioritize their traditional tribal
or other personal commitments over the interests of the
country. Wide-ranging educational programs were believed
to be the solution to this problem. Soldiers would be
instructed about the achievements of the regime, including
cleansing the internal front of spies, agents, and vandals,
and achieving equality of citizens (regardless of race or sect),
as well as policy achievements in the areas of petroleum
industry development, rural development, education, and
Within the existing scholarship on Iraqi politics, there are
multiple interpretations regarding the impact of the IranIraq War on nationalist sentiment within Iraq. On the one
hand, some scholars have argued that the only way Iraq
could have sustained such a long conflict with so many
causalities was through a surge in nationalist sentiment.15
This perspective was shared by the Saddam regime
which believed that helped to forge “a new Iraqi national
community out of the ethnically diverse population.”16
Yet others have argued that the war had a tendency to
undermine nationalist sentiment and, instead, “atomize
Iraqi society, throwing its members back on the security of
primordial loyalties and collective identities.”17 Jabar argues
that in the years immediately following the Iran-Iraq War,
“cracks in the union of popular and official nationalisms
began to surface among the restless war generation.”18 The
data and information that I have presented do not provide
direct evidence on the net impact of the war on nationalism
but do suggest which communities, within Iraq, might have
been most susceptible to declining nationalist support. It is
perhaps not surprising, then, that in the wake of the 1991
Gulf War, popular uprisings first emerged in Shiite areas of
southern Iraq that also had witnessed the largest casualty
counts during the Iran-Iraq War.
Impact on Nationalist Sentiment
In 1980, the Saddam regime was poorly positioned to
anticipate the duration, intensity, and political impact
of the decision to initiate conflict with Iran. Expecting a
limited war lasting weeks or months rather than years,
the regime was confronted with the challenge of handling
the political implications of war casualties and declining
citizen and military morale.
Lisa Blaydes is an associate professor in the department of
political science at Stanford University. She is the author
of several works including, most recently, Elections and
Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt (Cambridge
University Press, 2013).
There is little doubt that the Saddam regime was
concerned with the heavy cost of war for population.
The regime collected a great deal of information about
the war burden with an eye toward compensating the
families of war martyrs. Using this information, I have
sought to provide more precise information about the
relatively uneven distribution of war burden across Iraq’s
multi-ethnic community. These results provide evidence
for the existence of a hierarchy of burden associated with
the conflict where Iraqi Shiites were subjected to higher
15 Jabar, Faleh. 2003b. “Clerics, Tribes, Ideologues and Urban Dwellers
in the South of Iraq: The Potential for Rebellion.” Iraq at the Crossroads:
State and Society in the Shadow of Regime Change. Editors, Toby Dodge
and Steven Simon. International Institute for Strategic Studies. Adelphi
Paper 354.
16 Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War: 84
17 Chubin and Tripp, Iran and Iraq at War: 84
18 Jabar, Faleh. 2003a. “The Iraqi Army and the Anti-Army and the
Anti-Army: Some Reflections on the Role of the Military.” Iraq at the
Crossroads: State and Society in the Shadow of Regime Change. Editors,
Toby Dodge and Steven Simon. International Institute for Strategic
Studies. Adelphi Paper 354: 118
14 BRCC Doc. Nos. 01-2479-0004-0259 to 0273, October 22 1986.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
The Islamic State and the politics of official narratives
By Laurie Brand, University of Southern California
This piece originally appeared on The Monkey Cage on
September 8, 2014.
instruction. The first order in the directive is that all of the
following subjects are to be annulled: music, art, civics,
social studies, history, math, philosophy and social issues,
and Christian and Islamic religious education. However,
the directive also states that the Bureau of Curriculum will
“compensate” for their removal, a phrase that suggests that
what is underway is not the wholesale abolition of most
courses of study, but rather the first stage in a massive
reworking of the curriculum.
While its exploits in battle and crime in conquest have
captured most of the headlines regarding the group
formerly referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), since the June declaration of the Islamic State,
increasing attention has turned to how it governs, most
specifically how much actual “state” there is and how its
state-like institutions function.
The sources of the Islamic State’s budget – from ransoms of
foreign hostages and “foreign aid” from wealthy Gulf Arabs
to the sale of oil from production facilities that have come
under its control – have been widely reported. Its high profile
destruction of the border crossing between Iraq and Syria,
which the Islamic State framed in terms of overturning the
legacy of Sykes-Picot, demonstrated its ideological rejection
of existing state boundaries as it extended its own realm.
Recent developments in Mosul, the largest Iraqi city to be
conquered by the Islamic State, certainly call to mind Charles
Tilly’s famous piece “War Making and State Making as
Organized Crime;” however, it is in the Syrian city of Raqqah,
where the Islamic State established its first major seat of
power, that the basic institutions of its nascent state can be
most effectively observed.
Decades ago, the need for an educated population
was widely recognized by the first generation of postindependence leaderships in the developing world as
one means of confronting the myriad challenges of
post-colonial economic and political development. Just
as important, however, was the role that education was
to play in inculcating a new national narrative, one that
would “correct” the history and mission promulgated
by the former colonial power. In their place, an heroic
story would be constructed, aimed at building a unified
national identity, establishing the vision of that nation,
and – crucially – consolidating power through reinforcing
the regime’s legitimacy to rule. Thus, taking control of the
curriculum in the early stages of state development, what
the Islamic State appears to be engaged in, has been a
common policy across regions and over time.
Courts, prisons, tax collection, a complaints department
(diwan al-mazalim) and the morality patrols (hisbah)
– the Islamic State’s version of Saudi Arabia’s religious
police (mutawwain) – are obvious manifestations of its
assumption of control over regulating daily affairs. Most
recently, however, the Islamic State has turned its attention
to what Ernest Gellner once claimed was “more central
than the monopoly of legitimate violence” to the state: the
monopoly of legitimate education. Reports from Raqqah
during the last week in August detailed a “General Directive
to all Educational Institutions” issued by the Islamic State’s
Bureau of Curriculum, on official stationery and with its
own official stamps, which sets preliminary guidelines for
My research on national narratives in the Middle East
and North Africa bears this out. One of the most basic
tasks of narrative reconstruction undertaken by new
leaderships is establishing a new founding story. In both
Egypt and Algeria, as part of this process, the name of
the country was changed, a different flag was introduced
and revised history, civics and other texts were developed
that promoted the vision and values of the revolutionary
leadership. In the case of Egypt, while the Free Officers
who overthrew King Farouk in July 1952 by no means
rejected the role of Mehmet Ali in establishing the bases of
the modern Egypt state, the textbooks that were produced
shortly after the revolution constructed the overthrow of
the monarchy as the beginning of a qualitatively new era in
Egyptian history. In the case of Algeria, it took longer for
indigenous textbooks to be produced, in large part because
of the sorry state of indigenous schools at the time of the
French departure, but when they were, the bloody war
of liberation was clearly marked as a glorious and heroic
rebirth for the Algerian people.
The teacher is instructed to replace any gaps in Arabic
language and grammar instructional materials that may
result from the suppression of these terms with examples
that do not conflict with sharia or the Islamic State. In
addition, all pictures that violate sharia are to be removed,
as are any examples in mathematics that involve usury,
interest, democracy or elections. Finally, in the science
curriculum anything that is associated with Darwin’s
theory or evolution is to be removed and all creation is to
be attributed to God.
Previous work has shown that the constituent elements
of national narratives are often open to multiple
interpretations, hence allowing for investing them with
altered or new meanings as the polity evolves and as the
leadership may need. As a result, even deeply rooted
narratives have a degree of flexibility, leading to relative
stability in most tropes over time. Only during periods of
crisis – economic, political, military, etc. – does it appear
that sufficient “space” opens up for major revisions or
reconstructions of basic story lines and values. My research
revealed that in the cases of Egypt, Algeria and Jordan,
certain types of regime transition – particularly unexpected
leadership changes, as with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s death
in 1970 and Houari Boumediene’s death in 1978 – seemed
to open the way for significant, if not sudden, narrative
revisions. However, only in the cases of the implantation of
a completely new ruling group does it seem that attempt is
made to generate a wholly new founding story.
Thus the nascent narrative has several key bases that reveal
its radical nature. First is the change, not only of the name,
but also of the form of state – for it is not really “national”
– affiliation. Second is the rejection of the national anthem
and all of the history and values it represents. Third is the
suppression of existing types of belonging, well established
in the Arab world – qawmiyyah and wataniyyah – and
their replacement with a particular version of a religious
creed. A new founding narrative is clearly in the process of
being constructed and inculcated.
While it may be tempting, upon seeing the brutal videos
of the Islamic State’s campaign of “shock and awe” to
call it a “death cult” as some commentators recently
have, much of what it is currently engaged in has clear
parallels in other historical examples of conquest aimed
at securing control over both territory and people. How
far the Islamic State will be able to extend its aspirations
to state-like control, and to what extent it will be able to
consolidate those structures currently in place remain to
be seen. For those keen to counter and defeat it, as well
as those simply intent upon understanding its origins and
prospects, nascent entity-consolidating activities like the
promulgation of a new narrative through, among other
means, a reconstructed educational curriculum, demand
closer attention and analysis.
What we see now with the Islamic State is in keeping
with these examples. If one reads the entirety of its recent
curriculum directive, the outlines of a new narrative
under the declared caliphate can be discerned. The term
“Syrian Arab Republic” is to be removed completely and
replaced with “the Islamic State,” and the Syrian national
anthem is to be discarded or suppressed. There is to
be no teaching of the concepts of national patriotism
(wataniyyah) or Arab nationalism (qawmiyyah); rather,
students are to be taught that they belong to Islam and its
people, to strict monotheism and its adherents, and that
the land of the Muslim is the land in which God’s path
(shar’ Allah) governs. The words “homeland” (watan), “his
homeland,” “my homeland,” or “Syria” are to be replaced
wherever they are found with the phrases “the Islamic
state,” “his Islamic state,” “land of the Muslims” or the
“Sham (or other the Islamic State-governed) Province.”
Laurie A. Brand is the Robert Grandford Wright Professor
of International Relations and Middle East Studies at the
University of Southern California. She is the author of
“Official Stories: Politics and National Narratives in Egypt
and Algeria” (Stanford University Press, 2014).
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Turkey’s secularization in reverse?
By Kristin Fabbe, Claremont McKenna College
This piece appeared on The Monkey Cage on
February 9, 2015.
and attempting to foment a coup. The year was marked
by waves of AKP retaliation against Gulen affiliates in
the judiciary, police, media and even financial sector,
culminating in December 2014 with government raids and
arrest warrants for 31 of the movement’s alleged members
on terrorism charges.
Critics of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party
(AKP) have long voiced suspicion that the party harbors a
“hidden agenda” of “Islamizing the state.” Those concerns
have been inflamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s
increasingly repressive governing style at home, regional
support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the allegedly
ambivalent response to the rise of the Islamic State, whose
violent bid to resurrect a caliphate is pressing up against
Turkey’s south eastern borders. What does the claim of
“Islamizing” the state actually mean, however? A closer
look at two key sectors – the Directorate of Religious
Affairs and education – provides a window for analyzing
such claims.
While there is no doubt that Erdogan often justifies political
maneuvering through an appeal to religious attachments,
this is hardly unique in Turkey’s history. Although officially
“secular” in name as based on the constitutional principle of
“laiklik,” the Turkish state has never been secular in sense
of being “neutral” toward religion. Since the establishment
of the Turkish republic, the Directorate of Religious Affairs
(Diyanet), which was created to operate directly under the
control of the Office of the Prime Minister, has maintained
a firm grip on the production of an officially sanctioned
version of Sunni Islam.
The AKP’s efforts in these two sectors also intersect
with its increasingly acrimonious power struggle with
the Gulen movement. The followers of the exiled cleric
Fethullah Gulen constitute a large and influential religious
community in Turkey. The movement originally helped
bring the AKP to power, long supported its politics and
was instrumental in using its supporters in the police and
the judiciary to launch a barrage of court cases starting
in 2007 that helped to cement the AKP’s dominance. The
cracks in the Gulen-AKP alliance began to surface in
February 2012, when pro-Gulen prosecutors attempted
to subpoena Hakan Fidan, the head of the National
Intelligence Organization and a close Erdogan confidant.
In November 2013, Erdogan hit back by announcing his
plans to abolish Turkey’s vast network of cram-schools
(dershaneler), an educational system dominated by Gulen’s
sympathizers and an important source of the movement’s
revenue. The Gulenists then unleashed a corruption
probe targeting a number of AKP members that came
dangerously close to Erdogan himself. Throughout 2014
Erdogan intensified his rhetoric against the Gulenists,
accusing the movement of creating a “parallel state”
The Diyanet was at its weakest during the Kemalist heyday
of the 1920s and 1930s, though President Mustafa Kemal
Ataturk’s government still made nominal appeals to Sunni
institutions, elites and attachments. Kemalism is typically
thought of as synonymous aggressive secularization,
though in practice the Kemalists created a protected
place for official Islam under the purview of the state.
The Kemalists tasked religious elites at the Diyanet with
producing modern Turkish translations of the Koran and
other sacred texts, as well as publishing sermons for use in
mosques across the country in an effort to create a sacredsynthesis between religion and nation. Today, under Law
633 (last updated in 1965), the Diyanet has a mandate
to “operate affairs related to belief, worship, and moral
principles of the Islamic Religion, enlighten the public
about religious issues and administer places of worship.” In
practice, this means that the Diyanet is responsible for the
creation of sermons and mandatory school textbooks on
religion as well as staffing mosques and Koran courses.
Many observers claim that the AKP has expanded the
Diyanet’s authority and reach since taking executive power
through elections in 2002 (and further consolidating
power in 2007 when the AKP’s Abdullah Gul succeeded
Ahmet Necdet Sezer as president). Is this true? One often
cited statistic is the increasing number of civil servants
working for the Diyanet under the AKP’s tenure. Others
point to the Diyanet’s massive annual budget, which was
approximately 4.5 billion Turkish lira (around $2.1 billion)
in 2013 according official statistics.
remained “above politics,” though he also lamented that
many of the Diyanet’s imam-civil servants had recently lost
their jobs after having been sucked into the political fray.
A second prong in the claim that the AKP is “Islamizing”
Turkey is the highly publicized controversy regarding
the government’s alleged expansion of the Imam-Hatip
schools, which nominally provide Islamic “vocational
education” (mesleki egitim). The New York Times recently
called this the “latest front in Turkey’s cultural wars,” in
which the AKP has “gradually injected religion into public
life over the past 12 years in an effort to reshape Turkish
Both of these claims need to be put into historical
perspective. According to research by Nihat Ayturk, Yasar
Celik, and Enver Sahinaslan published in the Diyanet’s
official journal (Diyanet Dergisi) the number of Diyanet
employees also rose considerably in the three decades
between the political opening of the late 1940s and the
1980 military coup, from approximately 1,200 to 50,000
individuals. Consistent Diyanet personnel data from 1980s
until the present has been more difficult to locate; but
this is the data needed to put any more recent personnel
increases in proper perspective. Regarding the Diyanet’s
budget, Istar Gozaydin finds that from 1993 until 2008,
the Diyanet’s funding remained fairly consistent relative
to other government expenditures. Indeed, since as far
back as 1951, Gozayadin tracks that the Diyanet’s share
of the state budget has held fairly steady between 0.5 and
1 percent. I find that the most recent statistics do not
deviate much from the trend Gozaydın identifies, with the
Diyanet having approximately 1.1 percent of the overall
government budget in 2013.
The number of Imam-Hatip schools, which were originally
created at the founding of the republic with the expressed
purpose of training religious functionaries, has waxed
and waned since the 1920s as the result of complicated
changes in vocational and overall education policy. The
schools were closed between 1930 and 1948 and were
then gradually reinstated in 1949 (together with elective
religion courses in state schools). The number of ImamHatip schools grew steadily throughout the 1950s and even
increased after the “secularist” military intervention in
1960. This growth continued for well over three decades:
Imam-Hatip students made-up 2.6 percent of the overall
secondary students in 1965, growing to 8 percent in 1985
and 10 percent in 1997. Policies carried out by Turkey’s
military government in the 1980s also firmly secured
religion’s place in “regular” public schooling when it
included article 24 in the new constitution, obliging all
students to take religion classes from grades four through
This is not to say definitively that the AKP has not or will
not use the Diyanet as a political tool. Problems could arise
if the AKP decides – and is able – to leverage the Diyanet
as a political weapon against the Gulen Movement. A
2003 wikileaks cable noted that the cooperation between
the AKP and the Gulenists “dovetails at the Diyanet and
other elements of the bureaucracy.” One of these “other
elements” was the judiciary, which has since been torn
asunder by the Gulenist-AKP power struggle. In a rare and
lengthy televised interview with the Turkish media on Jan.
31, Diyanet President maintained that the organization
Given the long historical lineage of the Imam-Hatip system
and state-sponsored religious education, observers should
perhaps worry less about the Islamization of state education
and more about how the imminent closure of cram-schools
and other Gulenist schooling institutions will shape the
overall educational and political landscape. Many ImamHatip teachers and students are believed to sympathize
with the Gulenmovement and a number of public school
teachers – both in the Imam-Hatip and “regular” public
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
school system – have supplemented their income for years
by working at cram-schools after hours. The AKP’s assault
on Gulenist infrastructure could thus have unpredictable
ripple effects across education and politics. According to
a bill passed in parliament in the spring of 2014, the cramschools will either have to shutter their doors or covert
themselves to state monitored private schools by September
2015. Cram-school teachers who lose their jobs are being
promised a place in the state system, though it is unclear
how the state plans to absorb affiliates of a movement that it
is simultaneously trying to purge.
In Turkey, unlike the Arab world, opposition to the state
has rarely taken a strong religious form. Turkey has also
been largely immune to the influence of Salafi-style
religious ideologies. The question is whether or not this
could change given recent domestic divisions, which are
not between Islamists and secularists as Turkish politics
is often cast, but amongst Islamists with pro-regime and
anti-regime politics. There is also the issue of whether
the Gulenist-AKP split may force other religious orders
(tarikatlar) to take a more definitive political stance,
thereby shaping the upcoming 2015 general elections.
Kristin Fabbe is an assistant professor in the department
of government at Claremont McKenna College.
Do Jordan’s tribes challenge or strengthen the state?
By Kristen Kao, UCLA
This post appeared on The Monkey Cage on May 28, 2015.
sustain political order within increasingly embattled
Arab states.
In the spring of 2013, a fight between two students
of different tribes at a university in southern Jordan
killed four people and injured many. Tribe members on
both sides reportedly supplied the students with weapons
and closed the roads surrounding the area for days
after the event so that they could personally punish the
The role of neo-tribalism in local-level political order
reframes common theoretical perspectives on how Arab
states relate to societal challengers. Despite the predictions
of modernization theorists, rapid development in the
region has not reduced tribes as a primary source of social
identity. Instead, tribes have become an integral element of
Arab regime-maintenance strategies, becoming powerful
players in civil wars and insurgencies and a key part of the
counterinsurgency toolbox developed in Iraq.
Bystanders complained that state officials’ failure to
intervene effectively escalated the conflict. Order was
restored only once a pact was brokered between the sheiks
of the two tribes in a process known as al-atwa.
Tribes’ impact largely depends on the strength and
institutional structure of the states in which they operate.
In failing or fractured states, such as Iraq or Libya,
tribalism may serious threaten the rebuilding of nations
by contributing to the rapid decline of nationalism when
This relatively common incident — 40 tribal fights at
universities in Jordan were documented in 2013 alone —
offers a window into how new forms of tribalism help to
states are collapsing. Yet studying non-failed states such
as Jordan also helps to highlight the more subtle ways in
which “neo-tribalism” sustains both the social power of
tribes and the political stability of regimes.
between the state and society. Through such practices, in
turn, the regime reifies and reinforces tribal structures by
relying on — and thus empowering — tribes to take care of
their own.
The tribal conflict described above is typical of local
dynamics in Jordan. In April 2014, the sheikh al-shiukh
(literally, the sheik of the sheiks) of the largest tribe in
Jordan, DaifAllah al-Qulab, described for me how the state
court will almost always wait until the tribes have come
to an agreement among themselves before sentencing
a perpetrator. If money for the deceased is paid, the
sentence will be significantly reduced. Such arrangements
have considerable popular support. In the Governance
and Local Development (GLD) Jordan 2014 survey, 29
percent of participants preferred that this sort of tribal
law be employed to solve issues involving murder, and
59 percent favored a mix of tribal and civil law. Only 12
percent of participants wanted the formal court system
and government officials to resolve the conflict. In other
social and political realms, states in the Middle East
accommodate customary law and grapple with how much
autonomy tribes should be accorded.
When the state is strong, this strategy of governance can
work quite well and can serve to buttress the power of
the regime. However, when tribes take over the critical
role of administering justice, tribes and states compete
for claims to the legitimate use of force in the eyes of
their citizens. This is one of the most significant areas in
which the tribe confronts and conflicts with the nationstate. Identifying the social spheres in which traditional
authority challenges formal state authority also offers
an interesting and important topic for future research.
Moreover, determining the extent to which tribal identity
takes precedence over national identity within differing
contexts could illuminate sources of inherent instability
and weakness in established states in the region today
that rely on tribal governing structures. Even if there is
an overarching national ethos that the nation-state has
concocted around the idea of shared tribal ideals, in
practice, tribes and clans are customarily suspicious of
and in competition with one another. For example, about
85 percent of respondents to the GLD survey in Jordan
believe that one should worry about being cheated when
interacting with members outside one’s own tribe.
What links the local to the national is Jordan’s distinctive
conception of nationalism based upon the legitimacy of
a ruling sheik of a tribe to which all other tribes in the
country have sworn allegiance. In this discourse, all tribes
continue to play an integral role in governance. This
follows a pattern across the region, by which state-building
elites took historically reliable means of social organization
and cloaked them in national sovereignty and legitimacy,
adapting very traditional forms of social relations to the
new realities of rentier or semi-rentier states.
The modern nation-state demands that there be only
one centralized governing power with a monopoly on
the legitimate use of force. Yet tribes expect to be at least
partially autonomous. At their most basic level, tribes are
segmented communities based on putative kinship ties.
Tribalism is more than kinship, though. It is a cognitive
way of looking at the world: an ideology of believing
oneself to be part of a tribe, submitting to the social norms,
informal rules and formal laws governing that tribe, and
relating oneself to the rest of the world through the lens
of that tribe. People may simultaneously belong to both a
nation and a tribe, just as an American may also identify
as a Latina. Tribes and nations tap into a fund of myths,
symbols, values and shared memories — and different
identities can be mobilized depending on context.
For much of Jordan’s population, tribes provide the main
source of access to basic government services and benefits
through wasta, which is akin to a personal network of
connections. Wasta can mean either the middleman who
obtains the favor or the act of his intercession on behalf of
someone to obtain a desired outcome or good. Rather than
being delegitimized as corruption, wasta serves as a social
and economic lubricant in the often-tense interactions
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Tribes challenge, rather than support, nations when
they become the dominant way of seeing the world for a
person in a context that causes detriment to the nation.
If tribalism is a government official’s primary source of
identification, more of his time and effort in office is likely
to be limited in scope to helping members of his kinship
network with targeted benefits from the state at the
expense of the nation as a whole. Analysis of constituent
casework logs I collected from a variety of Jordanian
lawmakers confirms that tribal favoritism in the provision
of state benefits exists in many areas of the country. In the
GLD survey, 75 percent of participants agreed or strongly
agreed that elected officials respond more quickly to
kinsmen than other citizens. This scenario is a commonly
cited feature of politics in states where tribes and clans are
employed as official distributors of state resources to the
broader population. In this sense, tribalism is antithetical
to the nation because it places the interests of kin before all
others for no reason other than putative shared ancestral
ties. In these circumstances, the tribe mediates the citizen’s
membership in the nation-state.
within the contexts of nation-state collapse. The advantage
of the nation’s larger size as an imagined community is
most beneficial when there is a stable political institution,
such as a state, that can organize, provide for and protect
all of its members. When large governing institutions
are in shambles and failing in these regards, the smaller
size of tribes that results from their stricter rules for
membership makes it much easier for them to maintain
collective unity and protection for their members. Tribes
in the Middle East offer a convenient auxiliary structure for
social organization in times of chaos in large part because
they already have a degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the
people, who have long relied on them to resolve disputes,
administer justice and provide goods and services.
Moreover, the failure of collapsing nation-states to meet
their people’s daily needs invites other ideologies and ways
of organizing the world to fill the vacuum. Amid current
turmoil in the Middle East, tribalism may provide an
avenue for reestablishing order, but it also has the potential
to exacerbate the decline of the nation, threaten its stability
or hinder its reunification once the fighting stops.
The recent deterioration of states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen
and Libya encourages consideration of whether the nations
associated with these states will survive and, if so, how they
will adapt to new circumstances. It is easy to see how tribes
may shift from bolstering the nation-state to challenging it
Kristen Kao is a PhD candidate in political science
at UCLA. Her dissertation research investigates the
effect of electoral institutions on ethnic clientelism
and tribal voting behavior.
The identity politics of displacement in the Middle East
By Adam G. Lichtenheld, University of California, Berkeley
This piece appeared on The Monkey Cage on March 4, 2015.
Amnesty International recently released a scathing report
that took Western countries to task for their failure to
address the sharp uptick in human displacement in 2014.
No part of the world has been more affected than the
Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where recent
upheavals have spawned the region’s largest forced
migration crisis since the exodus of hundreds of thousands
of Palestinians during the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948.
Between 2008 and 2013 alone, the number of refugees
and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Arab world
roughly doubled, propelled by the 2011 uprisings and
violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and the Palestinian
territories. MENA is now the main region of origin of
refugees worldwide, and contains nearly one-third of the
global IDP population. This surge mirrors a broader, and
troubling, global trend. Despite a steady decline in the
incidence and lethality of armed conflict, the number
of people forcibly displaced by violence has swelled to
levels not seen since World War II.
Data Sources: Forcibly Displaced Populations Dataset,
updated for the years 2008 to 2013 with data from the
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and UNHCR
Population Statistics. (Adam G. Lichtenheld)
Population displacement has a unique legacy in the
Middle East, which claims the world’s largest protracted
refugee situation (the Palestinians) and the greatest gaps
in legal protection for forced migrants, as most countries
are not parties to the UN Refugee Convention. Yet
outside the voluminous literature on Palestinian refugees,
displacement remains relatively understudied in the Arab
world. Most research is refugee-centric and focuses on
encamped populations, even though the number of IDPs in
the region now nearly doubles the number of refugees, and
the vast majority of the displaced – including an estimated
70 percent of Syrian refugees and 95 percent of IDPs in
Yemen – do not live in camps or formal settlements.
While there is a discernable shift in global attention
toward forced displacement, this issue remains largely
neglected by scholars. In the Middle East, this growing
feature of contemporary politics is not only an urgent
concern for humanitarian agencies: Examining
displacement has important implications for enhancing
our understanding of the region’s shifting identity politics.
Since mass involuntary movements of populations have
long been a catalyst for political and social transformation
– and are linked to an array of security threats, from
conflict spillover and terrorism to the spread of infectious
disease – it is critical to consider how the most recent
waves of displacement will shape the future landscape of
the Middle East.
Meanwhile, displacement patterns in MENA have become
increasingly complex. More countries are experiencing
displacement than at any point in the past 50 years (see
below). Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, Yemenis and Palestinians
have been uprooted multiple times and across multiple
borders. The per-capita refugee populations of Lebanon
and Jordan are now three to six times greater than any other
country in the world, placing significant strain on these
states’ economies, social services and local communities.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
resettled Arab families in their place, became a hallmark
of Baath Party rule in Iraq and Syria. Saddam Hussein
resurrected these measures after the first Gulf War,
responding to Kurdish and Shiite uprisings by uprooting
entire communities, including residents of the Hammar,
Amarah and Huwizeh marshes. In Syria, President Bashar
al-Assad’s forces have bulldozed neighborhoods to force
civilians out of insurgent-held areas, adopting a strategy
used in the 1980s by his father and then-President Hafez
al-Assad, to put down revolts by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Israeli government has routinely expelled Palestinians
from their homes in the West Bank. And in recent months,
the Egyptian military has forcibly displaced thousands of
Sinai residents to establish a buffer zone with the Gaza
Strip aimed at stemming the influx of arms and militants
across the border.
Data Sources: Forcibly Displaced Populations Dataset,
updated for the years 2008 to 2013 with data from the
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and UNHCR
Population Statistics. (Adam G. Lichtenheld)
Political scientists tend to overlook these trends, despite
the fact that forced displacement engages fundamental
questions surrounding the organization and consolidation
of political authority; the very process of state formation
has been described as a “refugee-generating process.”
One reason for this neglect may be the tendency to treat
displacement as an inadvertent byproduct of violence and
instability, rather than a strategic tool. But recent research
by Kelly Greenhill, Abbey Steele and Yuri Zhukov has
demonstrated that the uprooting of civilian populations
is frequently orchestrated, manipulated and sustained by
political actors.
The use of these measures has enabled governments
(and aspiring governments) to assert control over
contested areas, monitor restive populations and engage
in social engineering as a part of state-led development.
Displacement has been more than an expedient military
tactic; it has been an essential state-building instrument.
Inducing population movements helps leaders consolidate
their authority while achieving a critical requirement of
modernization: The physical concentration of the populace
into regimented units, rendering even the most unruly or
inaccessible territories “legible,” in the words of James Scott.
In the Middle East, displacement has been commonly
employed as a weapon of war and a tool of statecraft.
According to data that I have collected from media reports,
historical records and academic studies, military forces and
other armed groups have strategically uprooted civilians
in at least 40 percent of all armed conflicts in the region
since 1945. Although “cleansing” territories of religious
rivals has become a popular tactic for sectarian militias in
Iraq and a cornerstone of the Islamic State’s bid to erect a
quasi-state, in a vast majority of cases, it is the state that
perpetuates these displacements. The Turkish military
has systematically depopulated Kurdish villages as a
counterinsurgency measure against the Kurdistan Worker’s
Party (PKK). Beginning in the 1970s, “Arabization”
campaigns, which expelled ethnic minorities and
These displacement strategies are nothing new. Population
transfers have been a feature of territorial acquisition,
military domination and imperial subjugation since
antiquity. Yet as colonial rule and wars of conquest have
become increasingly obsolete, the role of political actors in
intentionally triggering displacement is often overlooked in
the modern era. These strategies differ in type and intensity:
Authorities not only expel civilians from an area, they also
relocate them to designated settlements or monitored
makeshift camps elsewhere. Therefore in many cases, the
strategic displacement of civilian populations are not static,
one-off events, but dynamic processes whereby political
actors continuously seek to regulate people’s physical
locations and movements. No matter how officials justify
these measures, they rarely provide the resources needed to
adequately address their humanitarian consequences.
Second, focusing on the state’s role in inducing and
managing displacement draws attention to the material
drivers of identity politics. Studies of nationalism often
emphasize its subjective and ideational dimensions, with
less attention paid to the ways in which nationalism is
rooted in laws, policies and institutions. Forced migration
activates nationalism by attaching specific rights, resources
and recognition to particular ethnic, sectarian or national
affiliations. For all the talk of Kurdish transnationalism,
border restrictions, visa requirements and citizenship
benefits preserve salient differences between Iraqi, Syrian
and Turkish Kurds.
Many Middle Eastern scholars, most notably Edward Said,
have captured the essential links between displacement
and identity politics. Nationalism – the pursuit of
recognition and rights by self-defined collectives – is
often cited as a driver of forced migration, but as Said and
others have shown, is it also a consequence of it. These
connections remain mostly unexamined outside the
context of Palestinian nationalism, for which dislocation
and dispossession have become critical features. But the
Palestinians do not appear to be a unique case. Scholars
have recognized the role of displacement in constructing
Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and Sahrawi identity in
North Africa. Since identities tend to be territorially
anchored, being violently uprooted can lead people to cling
to their homelands, and promote an exaggerated sense of
group solidarity based on the very characteristics by which
individuals were displaced. Refocusing attention on how
displacement is weaponized within the contemporary
context can help us better understand the impact of
displacement on identity politics in two important ways.
Displacement therefore remains an underutilized prism for
observing the dynamics of identity production in Middle
Eastern politics. It also challenges popular narratives
surrounding the origins of sectarian conflict in the region.
Many observers claim that Arab autocrats suppressed
long-standing subnational divisions only to have them
erupt after these rulers were overthrown or undermined.
This obscures the fact that measures undertaken by these
regimes, particularly the strategic uprooting of civilian
populations, were instrumental in deepening these
divisions and essentializing the identities attached to them.
While frequently exercised under the auspices of national
unity, these displacements had the opposite effect: They
aggravated, rather than subdued, patterns of sectarian or
ethnic dominance.
First, displacement highlights the role of the state and
its agents in reifying, politicizing, and institutionalizing
national and subnational identities. According to Dawn
Chatty, the Ottoman Empire’s orchestrated expulsion and
resettlement of problematic or undesirable groups made
forced migration “the characteristic mark of nationalism”
across much of the Middle East. Scholars tend to
perceive the development of national consciousness as
a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, process. But as
states have increasingly “monopolized the legitimate
means of movement,” the ways in which authorities create
and respond to forced migrations play a pivotal role in
constructing nationalism. For displaced Palestinians,
the policies and actions of the Israeli government, the
discriminatory treatment of refugees by Lebanon and
Jordan and the management practices of U.N. relief
agencies have all enhanced the distinctiveness and political
salience of Palestinian identity.
Likewise, the more recent episodes of forced displacement
appear to be intensifying subnational rivalries in Syria,
Iraq and Yemen. By fragmenting society and categorizing
people not as citizens but members of homogenous
ethno-sectarian enclaves, displacement has inhibited
attempts to develop a national identity. These processes
are abetted by the fact that the primary providers of
humanitarian supplies and public services for displaced
communities are faith-based NGOs and local religious,
ethnic and tribal groups that directly or indirectly cultivate
dependency on subnational affiliations, particularly among
population displaced within their countries – who lack
the international legal protections afforded to refugees.
As Melani Cammett has shown, the provision of welfare
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
can engender or reinforce community solidarity. Thus
the activities of these aid groups could help augment
or preserve the ethno-sectarian identities of displaced
populations, just as the services provided by the U.N.
agency for Palestinian refugees have played a pivotal role in
reconstructing Palestinian identity.
given that civilian displacement within countries has
become far more prevalent than displacement outside of
them, it is critical that researchers focus on more localized
patterns of displacement. Is being uprooted within,
as opposed to across, state borders less likely to rouse
nationalist sentiments? Do different processes of exclusion,
assimilation and integration shape identity construction for
the internally displaced via-à-vis refugees? These questions
have profound importance for grasping the impact of
population displacement on reordering the Middle East. If
the twentieth century was the “century of the refugee,”then
the twenty-first is shaping up to be the century of the IDP.
Scholars must keep pace with these trends.
Yet we should refrain from taking these developments as
evidence that religious or ethnic identities are bound to
overtake national ones in a region purportedly beset by
vanishing borders. Despite the seeming predominance of
subnational affiliations, the salience of de jure nationality
– nationality based on legal citizenship – will persist
as states increasingly lay claim over the regulating
techniques of the politics of movement. More research
is therefore needed on the impact of different forms
of displacement on the production, contestation and
institutionalization of political identities. Previous studies
have demonstrated that displacement can consolidate
or disperse identity among exiled communities, from
so-called refugee warriors to diaspora communities. But
Adam Lichtenheld is a PhD student at the University of
California, Berkeley, where his research focuses on the
use of population displacement as a tool of statecraft,
U.N. peacekeeping and the links between displacement,
nationalism and violence. He is a contributor to UN
Dispatch and serves as a consultant for implementers of
USAID and other international development programs.
Lebanon’s national politics in the face of a changing region
By Christiana Parreira, Stanford University
Lebanon’s politics are often characterized as exceptional
within the context of the modern Middle East. The weak
capacity of the state to facilitate stability or provide basic
social welfare has long existed in uneasy tension with
Lebanon’s diverse religious composition, in stark contrast
to many of its regional counterparts. Yet the last four years
have brought about bold challenges to the state strength
of a number of other religiously diverse Middle Eastern
countries, such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. In light of these
changes, many of the prevailing frameworks through
which scholars view these states deserve to be reexamined
and supplemented. In this sense, we have much to learn
from Lebanon – particularly from how coalitions between
and cleavages within identity groups and their parties have
evolved in response to a rapidly changing region.
Existing literature provides a theoretical framework
through which to understand shifts over time in how
Lebanon’s often-messy national politics are conducted.
Scholars have examined the way in which political
cleavage structures, manifested through parties and
alliances, represent the culminations of critical periods of
change at the national level that facilitated the heightened
saliency of some identities over others. These cleavages
carry significance both for governments – specifically,
their ability to function and enact policy – and their
constituencies.1 Drawing from these ideas, some have
examined the ways in which preexisting institutions
and identity-based societal divisions interact to produce
political cleavages with tremendous staying power.2
Others, in turn, have linked changes in institutional
structure to individual-level behavior, allowing for shifts in
the dynamics of party politics.3
The sensitivity of Lebanese party politics to regional trends
dates back to the early years of the Republic. By the late
1950s, a number of elites within the Sunni opposition
to Maronite President Camille Chamoun adopted the
rhetoric of Nasserist Arab nationalism, incited in part
by Chamoun’s public display of support for the U.S.sponsored Baghdad Pact. By 1958, tension between those
opposing and allying with the president had become
violent, with Chamoun and his supporters alleging not
only ideological, but also financial ties between the
opposition and the newly formed United Arab Republic
(U.A.R.). The United States, inferring (somewhat obtusely)
from this dynamic an affinity between Lebanese Sunnis,
the U.A.R., and the Soviet Union, eventually intervened
in the civil conflict, brokering an agreement between the
government and the opposition. Yet Sunni opposition at
this time converged around a set of domestic concerns,
specifically the sense of dispossession felt by that sect as
a result of the disproportionate allocation of power to the
Maronites by the confessional system. As Michael Johnson
points out, ideas derived from regional trends provided a
basis by which Muslim opposition parties could demand
changes to the distribution of power.4
What can the study of the Lebanese case add to these
discussions, and to what end? Central to national political
life in Lebanon are its assortment of religious identities
and the confessional system (nidham al-taifyya) that
strategically situates these sects in relation to the state’s
elected parliament, tripartite executive branch, and
bureaucracy. Since its inception, this system has dictated
the sectarian framework through which politics are
conducted at the local, regional, and national levels in
Lebanon – yet, as I intend to demonstrate, alliances and
divisions of Lebanese political parties have periodically
shifted even as the confessional system remained a
relatively stable national institution. The pullout of Syrian
troops in 2005 and the start of the 2011 Syrian civil war,
in particular, have prompted substantial reformulations
of the national party cleavage structure. Most recently,
the alignment of Lebanon’s political parties into two main
groups – March 8 and March 14 – has been complicated
by a division between those who support and oppose
the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with
Christian parties playing a pivotal role in this recent split.
These changes, I argue, can only be fully understood by
examining the history of how regional trends interact with
domestic political agendas in frequently overlapping, yet
also distinct ways.
A divide between Lebanon’s leftist and conservative
camps also interacted with the confessional system in the
prewar era. Under successive governments in the 1960s
and early 1970s, policy initiatives aimed at addressing
rising inequality and urban poverty were continually
proposed and stymied, largely by opposition from elites
at the local level. These leaders, Tom Najem argues,
feared that a stronger state presence would threaten the
influence they exercised under a confessional system
in which sectarian institutions assumed responsibility
for social welfare provision.5 Clearer fault lines began to
emerge as widespread violence broke out in 1975, with
those supporting systemic reform to the confessional
system fighting against those committed to preserving the
traditional order. The former group united formally under
1 Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, Cleavage Structures, Party Systems,
and Voter Alignments. (Toronto: The Free Press, 1967).
2 David Laitin, Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Change Among the
Yoruba. (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 1986).
4 Michael Johnson, Class and Client in Beirut. (London: Ithaca Press,
3 Daniel Posner, Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. (Cambridge:
Cambridge U. Press, 2005).
5 Tom Najem. Lebanon: Politics of a Penetrated Society. (New York:
Routledge, 2012).
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
the banner of the Lebanese National Movement (LNM),
and the latter largely as the Lebanese Front.
and defense sectors.7 The sectarian parties that emerged
from the aftermath of the civil war, many led by the same
militiamen who had fought one another over the prior
decade, came to dominate Lebanese politics once again.
This division, too, was colored by sectarian affiliation, with
Sunni Muslims fighting against a system they believed to
be biased against them, and Maronites committed to an
arrangement that had historically been to their advantage.
Shiite Muslims, also disadvantaged by the failure of
confessional system to account for national demographic
changes, also began organizing around this time.6 A 1976
initiative to adjust the proportionality of the confessional
system, put forward by then-centrist Lebanese President
Suleiman Frangieh, gained some political traction and even
received pledges of support from the Syrian government.
Yet Syria soon flipped its position, signaling an abrupt
shift in stance by sending its own troops to fight on behalf
of the Maronite Kataeb Party. As the civil war wore on,
the Syrian about-face, the assassination of LNM leader
Kamal Jumblatt, and the 1982 Israeli invasion led to the
dissolution of the LNM and the splintering of the war
into a vast array of identity-based groups. Many of these
groups aligned both with and against different members of
their own sect, and most were supported in some way by a
variety of foreign actors.
The 2005 popular movement aimed at ending the Syrian
occupation brought broad transformations to the Lebanese
political order. Following the successful removal of Syrian
forces from the country, the now ubiquitous March 8 and
March 14 Alliances – both named after the dates of mass
protests organized by coalition leaders for and against
the Syrian presence in Lebanon, respectively – came to
dominate national party politics, with sectarian groups
filing into one camp or the other. The division between the
Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition and the Future
Movement-led March 14 camp was solidified by the 2006
war between Israel and Hezbollah and a 2008 power
struggle between the two parties.
The bifurcated nature of party politics in the postoccupation era has been at once strengthened and
complicated by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Since 2011,
the March 14 and March 8 Alliances have divided along
coalition lines into respectively anti- and pro-Assad
regime stances, with assassinations and targeted bombings
associated with both sides of the Syrian conflict drawing
forceful statements from political elites. Hezbollah has
professed its support for the Assad regime and called for a
negotiated solution, while Future Movement leader Saad
Hariri has publicly referred to the Syrian president as “a
monster”8 and called for his removal. At the popular level,
the northern port city of Tripoli has at times become a
microcosm of the conflict occurring in Syria, with violence
playing out on multiple occasions between the city’s Sunni
and Alawite neighborhoods.9
The war-ending Taif Agreement of 1990 brought some
changes to the confessional system. Slight adjustments
to the distribution of parliamentary seats were made,
along with the addition to the executive branch of a Shiite
speaker of the house, to sit alongside the Sunni prime
minister and Christian president. The Taif Agreement’s
more significant contributions, however, were to allow
Hezbollah to continue its existence as an armed force
within the country and to institutionalize the indefinite
occupation of Lebanon by Syria. Several agreements
signed between leaders of the two states in 1991 created
further ties between the domestic and foreign goals of
Lebanon and Syria, crucially intertwining their intelligence
7 Bassel Salloukh, “Syria and Lebanon: A Brotherhood Transformed.”
Middle East Report, no. 236 (2005).
8 Diab Youssef, “Hariri on Syria Arrest Warrants: Assad a Monster,”
The Daily Star, December 12, 2012.
9 For some coverage of this conflict, see Damien Cave, “Syrian War
Plays Out Along a Street in Lebanon,” The New York Times, August 24,
2012 and Josh Wood, “Sectarian Conflict Kills at Least 17 in Northern
Lebanon in Spillover of Syrian Civil War,” The New York Times,
December 10, 2012.
6 For an assessment of the disparity between the confessional system
and Lebanon’s demographics, see Rania Maktabi, “The Lebanese Census
of 1932 Revisited: Who Are the Lebanese?” British Journal of Middle
Eastern Studies 26, no. 2 (1999).
Under these circumstances, non-Muslim parties under the
umbrellas of both camps have come to occupy somewhat
uncertain, often confusing, and critically important
ground. The Christian-majority Lebanese Forces remain
under the banner of March 14 with their leader, Samir
Geagea, professing vehement opposition to the Assad
regime, having fought the occupation in past decades.
Meanwhile, the officially secular yet Christian-dominated
Free Patriotic Movement aligns itself with the March 8
Alliance and supports Assad despite its leadership by
Michel Aoun, who conducted a final stand against the
Syrian regime’s occupation of Lebanon in the final years
of the civil war. Finally, in 2011, Walid Jumblatt’s Druzedominated Progressive Socialist Party, linked to Syria in
the 1990s, split from the March 14 Alliance in favor of
March 8 despite its leader’s professed opposition to the
Assad regime. Yet in an interview later that year, Jumblatt
declared, “I’m not a part of March 8. I’m a part of the
alliance,” adding further confusion to his party’s stance in
relation to Syria.10
exist in near-total paralysis. Some observers have begun to
express frustration at how the hegemony of the March 14
and March 8 blocs limits the terms of substantive political
discourse.11 This is in no way to suggest that splits within
Lebanon’s Christian population are new – over the course
of the civil war, the community became highly polarized,
culminating in a split over whether or not to support the
terms of the Taif Agreement. Rather, this recent shift
supports the notion that splits along party lines within
identity groups have consistently surfaced during critical
moments of domestic or regional change – and that these
divisions often reshape the framework through which
national policymaking is conducted.
Though confessionalism plays a critical role in determining
the consistently sectarian nature of party politics
in Lebanon, the structure of alliances and divisions
between political parties has proven malleable at critical
national and regional junctures. Through understanding
the patterns underlying these changes, scholars can
work toward developing a fuller understanding of the
remarkable dynamism of national politics in both Lebanon
and the region in which it is situated.
Opinion at the level of Lebanon’s national political elite
within Christian groups, then, appears divided and
tenuous. The effects of this added noise introduced into the
government’s bifurcated party system have yet to manifest
fully, particularly as the national parliament continues to
Christiana Parreira is a PhD student in the department of
political science at Stanford University.
11 For an eloquent framing of these frustrations, see Maya Mikdashi,
“The Space Between: March 14, March 8 and a Politics of Dissent.”
Jadaliyya.com, August 6, 2011.
10 Josh Wood, “Syrian Uprising Spills Over Into Lebanon’s Raucous
Political Scene.” The New York Times, November 30, 2011.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Remembering Failed States in the Middle East
By David Siddhartha Patel, Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University
In mid-November 2011, four weeks after the fall of the
Moammar Gaddafi regime, residents of Msallata, Libya
celebrated the 93rd anniversary of the proclamation of
independence of the Tripolitanian Republic. They marched
in the streets and listened to stories about the founding in
1918 of the first republic in the modern Middle East: alJumhuriya al-Trabulsiya. Although that state survived only
a few years, until 1923, these commemorations suggest that
“memories of stateness” have lasted much longer. Similarly,
on June 1, 2013 in eastern Libya, Ahmed al-Senussi
declared Cyrenaica to be a “self-governing region,” echoing
his great-uncle King Idris’s declaration of independence of
the Emirate of Cyrenaica on June 1, 1949.
the the Idrisi State of Asir.1 As far as I know, no one has
attempted a comprehensive study of them as a group.
My new book project studies and compares these failed
states.2 I am interested not just in how they came to be and
how they died, but I also propose to document and study
how they are remembered today by residents of the Middle
East and the ways in which political entrepreneurs could
use their histories and symbols for mobilization. If Syria,
Iraq, and Libya break up because of unrest, might the past
– the failed states of the past – shape the future map of the
Middle East?
This memo describes several parts of my book project and
is organized into three sections: 1) identifying the universe
of these failed states and presenting some descriptive
findings; 2) briefly discussing my plans to compare “polities
that passed” to states that survived; and 3) suggesting ways
to explore “memories of stateness” today.
The central government of Libya is weak: When Prime
Minister Ali Zeidan was seized from a hotel in the
capital in 2013 by a rebel militia, another rebel militia
purportedly freed him. Many analysts speculate that Libya
could break up, either de facto or de jure. If it does, could
memories of the Tripolitanian Republic and the Emirate
of Cyrenaica provide bases for new political communities?
Arab notables from the coast, tribal chieftans from the
hinterland, and Berbers from the Nafusa Mountains came
together to form a republic in 1918. Could memories – real
or invented – and the flags of those defunct states unite
tribes and factions today?
Part I: The universe of failed states
The first step in this project is to identify the full universe
of states that have failed in the Middle East since 1914. As
far as I know, I am the first to attempt this. I have identified
a minimum of 29 and up to 62 such territorially-based
polities, depending on how I code various sultanates,
These two “Libyan” states are not the only inchoate polities
that vanished from the map of the modern Middle East
and North Africa. Depending on criteria, between 29
and 62 autonomous territorial polities that existed in the
region after 1914 have disappeared, most often by being
absorbed into or conquered by other states. Only a few
of these “failed states” have received focused attention
from scholars, such as Joshua Teitelbaum’s study of the
Kingdom of the Hijaz, Madawi Al-Rasheed’s history of the
Emirate of Jabal Shammar, Graham H. Stuart’s account
of the city-state of Tangier, and Anne K. Bang’s thesis on
1 Teitelbaum, Joshua. 2001. The Rise and Fall of the Hashimite Kingdom
of Arabia. New York: New York University Press. Al-Rasheed, Madawi.
1991. Politics in an Arabian Oasis: The Rashidi Tribal Dynasty. New
York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Stuart, Graham H. 1955. The International City
of Tangier. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bang, Anne K. 1996. The Idrisi State in Asir, 1906-1934: Politics,
Religion, and Personal Prestige as Statebuilding Factors in Early
Twentieth-Century Arabia. Bergen: Centre for Middle Eastern and
Islamic Studies.
2 If I cannot reappropriate the term “failed state,” I might call them
“states that failed” or “polities that passed.” I am trying to avoid referring
to them as “dead” states because part of the project explores the extent
to which they continue to survive through memory and the conditions
under which they might be revived.
federations, and states that existed in South Yemen under
British protection.
conquest and overlook cases of collective abdication.6
Both causes of death occur among states in my dataset.
International relations scholars typically define “stateness”
in terms of membership in international organizations
or recognition by great powers.3 This operationalization
misses almost all of the inchoate states in the Middle East.
Instead, I employ a modified version of Scott Abramson’s
neo-Weberian definition of a state, which emphasizes
domestic capacity, including a quasi-monopoly of violence
over a fixed territory.4 Norman Davies’s 2012 study of
European polities that vanished identifies five mechanisms
of death: implosion, conquest, merger, liquidation, and
“infant mortality.” I adapt his coding scheme.5
6.Many (arguably, most) states in the MENA perished by
voluntarily merging with others.
7.No MENA states died via implosion or violent
dissolution. There is no regional precedent like the
Soviet Union, Federation of Yugoslavia, or AustroHungarian Empire.
8.Iraq possesses only one failed state within its borders:
the Kingdom of Kurdistan, a city-state that existed in
Sulaymaniyah from around 1921 to 1924. Iraq has no
reservoir of substate “memories of stateness” for Arab
Sunnis or Shiites to draw upon in the event of partition.
In contrast, Syria and Libya do.
A few preliminary observations from the dataset:
1.Polities died in every decade from the 1920s to the
1970s, and new polities continued to emerge through the
1950s. The map of the Middle East was not set at the San
Remo Conference.
I am creating a geographic information system (GIS) to
map and visualize these failed states, as well as collecting
a variety of information about them. Using GIS in this
way helps us see where these states existed and the extent
to which their borders reflect current national identity
contestations. How did these states come to exist? How
many pre-date the arrival of colonial powers, how many
were created by colonial powers, and how many were
indigenous attempts to resist colonialism? To what extent
did their boundaries and membership cross linguistic,
tribal, and sectarian boundaries? Once I map these states,
I will be able to analyze the extent to which their actual or
claimed borders are coterminous with the international
and subnational borders of today’s states. One question
I will answer is the extent to which these failed states
continue to determine subnational demarcations. Is the
purported weakness of national identity in the Middle
East today partly a legacy of early state formation and
2.Of the 19 extant states in the MENA, 10 contain the
territory of at least one failed state.
3.States failed throughout the region, not in a single subregion.
4.States failed in areas influenced by the British, French,
Spanish, and no colonial power.
5.The IR literature on state death tends to focus on
3 See Correlates of War Project. 2011. “State System Membership List,
v2011.” Online, http://correlatesofwar.org. The COW project defines
membership in the international system after 1920 as membership in
the League of Nations or United Nations or a population of 500,000 or
more and establishment of diplomatic missions from any two major
powers. And see Fazal, Tanisha. 2007. State Death: The Politics of
Geography and Conquest, Occupation and Annexation. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 14-17.
4 Abramson created a dataset of European states from 1100-1789.
Abramson, Scott. 2013. “The Economic Origins of the Territorial State.”
Unpublished Manuscript. Princeton University.
6 On conquest see Fazal, 2007. On collective abdication see Ermakoff,
Ivan. 2008. Ruling Oneself Out: A Theory of Collective Abdications.
Durham: Duke University Press.
5 Davies, Norman. 2012. Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of
States and Nations. New York: Viking.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Part II: Comparing failed states to extant states
“Druzistan” is Jabal Druze (1922-36, 1939-42; a.k.a. State
of Suwayda), and “the Alawite Republic” reflects the
historic Alawite State (1920-1922, 1924-36, 1939-42; a.k.a.
Government of Latakia). The map on the right, which
accompanied a piece by Robin Wright in The New York
Times, does not depict the “reemergence” of states that
failed from Syria, but it shows Libya and Saudi Arabia
breaking apart largely along the lines of states that existed
before those countries were unified by Idris and Ibn Saud’s
Ikhwan respectively.
Charles Tilly and several other scholars have observed
that to fully understand the process of state formation,
we cannot focus only on states that survived but must
also consider those that did not. This part of my project
matches and compares a sample of failed polities to extant
states to identify factors that might account for why
some autonomous polities survived (e.g., the Emirate of
Transjordan, later the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan) and
others (e.g., the Kingdom of the Hijaz, 1916-25) did not. A
tremendous amount of literature focuses on state-building
in existing states, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. Some
scholars occasionally compare those states to one another.
But no one asks if we can learn about state-formation by
comparing Kuwait with Hatay State (1937-39).7 Although
they seem like an unlikely pair, both Kuwait and Hatay
were new coastal states with high linguistic and religious
diversity and large and powerful neighbors who sought
to annex them.8 Why did Kuwait’s diverse population
(Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shiite) unify to fend off
Saudi irredentism at the Battle of Jahra in 1920 while
Hatay’s population split along linguistic lines, facilitating
annexation by Turkey in 1939? These questions are
relevant to the contemporary Middle East and of interest
to political scientists, as well as historians.
Figure 1: Redrawing the map of the Middle East
Part III: “Memories of stateness”
Source: The Atlantic, January/February 2008
Figure 1 presents two images from Western media of how
civil unrest might lead to a redrawing of the map of the
Middle East. The map on the left, which appeared on the
cover of The Atlantic in early 2008, depicts more than a
dozen changes to the region’s borders and regimes. Some
new states have no precedent as independent polities, such
as a unified Kurdistan or the partition of Iraq into Sunni
and Shiite states. In Syria, however, several autonomous
polities that existed during the French mandate reemerge
as independent states with similar borders and flags:
7 The one exception to this is the tendency of histories of Saudi
Arabia to briefly explain why the Al Saud defeated the Al Rasheed. See,
for example, Al-Rasheed, Madawi. 1992. “Durable and Non-Durable
Dynasties: The Rashidis and Saudis in Central Arabia.” British Journal of
Middle Eastern Studies 19, 2:144–58.
Source: Robin Wright, “Imagining a Remapped Middle
East,” The New York Times, Sept 28, 2013
8 Britain had to come to the defense of Kuwait in 1899, 1901, 1914,
1920, 1928, and 1961. Not to mention 1991…
Scholars know little about how states that failed are
remembered by residents of the contemporary Middle
East, and little useful theory exists that would allow us to
deductively restrict the conditions under which political
entrepreneurs could use or invent symbols of those states
to successfully mobilize populations. I propose to study the
ways in which a subset of these states are remembered.
I think this project will challenge conventional
understandings of how current conflicts might reshape
the map of the contemporary Middle East. It should also
reshape the state-building literature by demonstrating
the extent to which existing scholarship truncates the
dependent variable. To understand states that survived, we
need to examine those that did not.
In my preliminary work I have focused on how Kurds
“remember” the short-lived Republic of Mahabad (1946),
also sometimes referred to as the Republic of Kurdistan.
Memories of Mahabad resonate far beyond Iranian
Kurdistan. They heavily shaped the organization of the
Kurdish Peshmerga and the worldview of Iraqi Kurdish
leader Mustafa Barzani, who served as Mahabad’s Minister
of Defense. His son, Massoud Barzani, was born there
and referred to the state as “an ideal time and place to be
born a Kurd.”9 The Mahabad flag remains the flag flown in
Iraqi Kurdistan. Chwar Chra Square – where the Republic
was proclaimed and where its founder, Qazi Muhammad,
was hung – remains a powerful shared symbol among
Kurds (not coincidentally, a major hotel in Erbil/Hawler
is the ChwarChra Hotel). As Syrian Kurdish parties form
a transitional administration to run Kurdish-majority
areas in northeast Syria and coordinate with Kurds in
Turkey and Iraq, the history and symbols of the Republic
of Mahabad might be useful in the creation of a shared
sense of identity. I speculate that a reliance on those shared
pan-Kurdish symbols will make it more difficult for Kurds
to credibly signal to the Turkish and Iraqi governments
that they will not seek greater unification. Similarly, I am
trying to track if and how Syrian Druze invoke the history
of the state of Jabal Druze in their self-governance efforts.
The flag of Jabal Druze has begun to appear with Druze
military units serving in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s
army. If the Assad regime crumbles, I would not be
surprised to see the rediscovery of the Alawite State’s flag
and symbols as Alawites retrench to the coastal governates
of Latakia and Tartus. Examples from Libya began this
memo. I will use online sources to track the “revival” of
symbols and memories of failed states.
David Siddhartha Patel is a junior research fellow at
the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis
University. Previously, Patel was an assistant professor in
the Department of Government at Cornell University.
Works cited
Abramson, Scott. 2013. “The Economic Origins of the Territorial
State.” Unpublished Manuscript. Princeton University.
Bang, Anne K. 1996. The Idrisi State in Asir, 1906-1934: Politics,
Religion, and Personal Prestige as Statebuilding Factors in Early
Twentieth-Century Arabia. Bergen: Centre for Middle Eastern
and Islamic Studies.
Barzani, Massoud. 1997. “An Ideal Time and Place to be Born a
Kurd.” The International Journal of Kurdish Studies 11, 1-2:4952.
Correlates of War Project. 2011. “State System Membership List,
v2011.” Online, http://correlatesofwar.org.
Davies, Norman. 2012. Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of
States and Nations. New York: Viking.
Ermakoff, Ivan. 2008. Ruling Oneself Out: A Theory of Collective
Abdications. Durham: Duke University Press.
Fazal, Tanisha. 2007. State Death: The Politics of Geography and
Conquest, Occupation and Annexation. Princeton: Princeton
University Press.
Al-Rasheed, Madawi. 1991. Politics in an Arabian Oasis: The
Rashidi Tribal Dynasty. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co.
____. 1992. “Durable and Non-Durable Dynasties: The Rashidis
and Saudis in Central Arabia.” British Journal of Middle Eastern
Studies 19, 2:144–58.
Stuart, Graham H. 1955. The International City of Tangier.
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Teitelbaum, Joshua. 2001. The Rise and Fall of the Hashimite
Kingdom of Arabia. New York: New York University Press.
9 Barzani, Massoud. 1997. “An Ideal Time and Place to be Born a
Kurd.” The International Journal of Kurdish Studies 11, 1-2:49-52.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
From Jim Crow to ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’:
The legal and soft barriers to equality and integration of citizen-Palestinians in Israel
By Gershon Shafir, University of California, San Diego
Even so, the attempt to close the socio-economic gaps
have not completely abated on the governmental level
and new integrative initiatives have been put forth by the
internationally-oriented parts of the private sector.
For the first two decades after 1948, most members of the
Palestinian Arab minority in Israel lived under a military
government that regulated their freedom of movement and
enforced legalized barriers that prevented their free access
to land and to employment in the Jewish-run economy.
These legal barriers then came down one at a time: In 1959
the exclusion from the Histadrut labor union ended, the
military government was abolished in 1965, and exclusion
in land allocation was struck down by the Supreme Court
of Israel in 2000. It seemed that an exclusionary ethnonational citizenship was giving way to a liberal citizenship
framework that would encompass both Jewish and Arab
citizens of Israel. Nevertheless, citizen-Palestinians, who
currently make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population,
remain poorer, less-educated, and concentrated at the
lower rungs of the occupational hierarchy. The government
appointed Or Commission of August 2003, concluded
that: “Israel’s Arab citizens live in a reality in which they are
discriminated against as Arabs.”
This goal of this research project is not to record the massive
disparities in the socio-economic status of Israel’s Jewish and
Palestinian Arab citizens; these are well documented. Nor
it is to evaluate the relative effect of the social structure of
Palestinian Arab communities versus official discrimination
in maintaining these disparities; a great deal of work has
been done on such comparisons as well. My goal is to
identify and inquire into the concrete mechanisms that
maintain the exclusion of and discrimination against
Israel’s Palestinian citizens even in the absence of legalized
segregation and exclusion. Some of these mechanisms use
republican virtue, others ethno-national, and ironically
even liberal, neo-liberal, and multi-cultural citizenship
incorporation to achieve exclusion. My hypothesis is that
soft barriers, especially of the recent local (regional and
municipal) and consumer-based variety, emerge with the
termination of state-level boycotts and legal barriers but
produce similar results to the earlier legal exclusions. What
was Jim Crow now becomes a so-called “Gentlemen’s
Agreement,” though plus ça change, plus c’est la même
chose (the more it changes, the more it stays the same).
During the years of Oslo process, parallel with negotiations
between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO), Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also undertook
efforts to begin to remedy systemic discrimination against
citizen-Palestinians. These were years of “unparalleled
openness” in Yousef T. Jabareen’s words, expressed through
expanded budgets and the Supreme Court decision
mentioned above. However, with the decline and collapse
of the hopes for a peace accord, Israel has taken a turn
toward a more nationalist and ethnocentric citizenship
discourse. The older legal barriers have been, in part,
replaced by softer barriers. Since the 2009 legislative
elections there has been a discernible backlash against
the expanding liberal citizenship discourse that was
expressed in attempts, such as the proposed “Nation-State
Law” of late 2014, to reconstruct legal barriers as well.
Barriers to Land:
One of the most significant barriers has been the exclusion
of Palestinians from public land that was owned or run
on behalf of the pre-state colonizatory bodies, the Jewish
National Fund (JNF) and the Jewish Agency, and by the
Israel Land Authority (ILA). Palestinian citizens are,
therefore, unable to purchase or lease land on around 80
percent of Israel’s territory on the basis of their nationality.
The Qaadans, a citizen-Palestinian couple, petitioned the
Supreme Court in 1995 to intercede on their behalf after
the ILA refused to lease them land in Katzir, a “community
settlement” established by the Jewish Agency. In a pathbreaking decision in March 2000, the Supreme Court, led
by Court President Aharon Barak, determined that it was
illegal for the state to discriminate between its Jewish and
Arab citizens in the allocation of land, even when that
discrimination was affected indirectly, through Jewish
“national institutions” (the Jewish Agency in this case).
The ethno-national Zionist interest in “Judaizing” various
regions of the country, Barak ruled, could not overcome
the liberal principle of equality and, in effect, affirmed the
distinction between the national and private spheres. The
court pursued an integrationist approach, asserting that “a
policy of ‘separate but equal’ is by its very nature unequal
… [because] separation denigrates the excluded minority
group.” Even so, the court did not hand down a principled
but only an ad hoc ruling, instructing the ILA to reconsider
its previous decision.
by increasing their Jewish population. For a long time
this policy was carried out by the construction of new
towns along Israel’s borders and the direction of waves of
immigrants to them.
Since February 1998, Israeli governments have provided
priority and subsidies in housing, development,
educational, cultural, sport, and environmental protection
funds through its relevant ministries to communities
designated as National Priority Areas (NPA) on the basis
of three criteria: 1) geographic distance from the center
of the country, 2) location in ‘friction zones,’ and 2) low
socio-economic ranking. The NPA designation is a “main
channel for allocating additional resources” to local
communities. This list is regularly revised and updated.
In 2006, Justice Barak’s Supreme Court rejected the use of
geographical criterion for the designation of NPA, which
had been employed to provide such status to some 550
Jewish and four Arab communities. The Court rejected the
criterion because it “is contaminated by one of the most
suspect distinctions, which is distinction based on race
and nationality.” On July 14, 2009, the Law for Enhanced
Economic Efficiency introduced a new mix of criteria,
including the enhancement of the state’s social-security
immunity (khosen). Though, the new law established whole
geographical regions as NPAs areas – within which 40
percent of the population lived in Arab communities – it
simultaneously decided that individual ministers have
exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether a community
located within a NPA region will, in fact, be entitled to the
corresponding benefits. In effect, the new law separated
the classification of a community as a NPA from the
allocation of benefits to it by muddying the selections
There were several, but interconnected, responses to the
Supreme Court Decision which, for all practical purposes
replaced the legal barrier with a soft one. In a meeting of
the representatives of agencies in charge of land policy,
the ILA’s director general argued that “if the JNF land
cannot contribute to the [state’s] Jewish character, then
it shall be [done through] the structure of settlements’
Admission Committees.” These Admission Committees
were first established in 1989 and tasked with admitting only
individuals suitable for a communal life style. Committee
members are drawn from the settlement’s founders, the
regional council, and the Jewish Agency. In 2005, it was
decided that the committee would remain in operation
not only until it has 150 but 400 families per locale, thus
approving large numbers of Jewish families before throwing
the community open to Arab families. Such Admission
Committees operate in 695 locales, which account for 68.5
percent of Israeli towns and 85 percent of villages. Barriers to Employment:
Another powerful but less visible barrier to equality and
integration is the use of security, in particular military
service criteria, to award benefits to individual citizens in
a way that excludes Arab citizens. This is commonly a two
step-exclusion: In the first stage, most Palestinian citizens
Landed Barriers to Employment and Benefits:
A standing aim of Israeli policy has been enhanced state
control of areas within the 1949 Green Line boundaries
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
are exempted from military service and, in a second stage,
they are found ineligible for benefits allocated to veterans.
These benefits have to be earned and are available only to
those who, according to a republican virtue tradition of
citizenship, attend to the common good which, however, is
defined in terms of ethno-nationalist citizenship.
policies were instituted to reduce Jewish-Arab socioeconomic gaps. These efforts are still continuing. In the
past decade and half, several affirmative action programs
to build industrial parks and foster vocation training,
have been enacted in response to the Or Commission
Report’s criticism. Though some progress has been made,
only a portion of the new budgets were expanded. Plans
to increase participation in the public sector, by setting
designated target rates for both Arab men and women,
have also not been very effective. Since 2007 there have
been several private sector initiatives to promote the
integration of Arab college graduates into the private
sector and create high-tech hubs in Arab municipalities.
Though there have been notable individual successes, it is
difficult to assess how effective these programs have been
and how they stack up against the legal and soft barriers
examined here.
Military service is viewed as a broad filter of trust, rather
than a qualification required for the performance of
many jobs. Israel’s internal security service, the Shin
Beit, has to provide security clearance to employees in
the public sector, however the criteria for determining
appropriate security fit remain covert. In the past, the
Electric Company, the Telephone Company (Bezek),
and the Airport Authority have rejected Arab applicants
for security reasons, using national origin as a proxy for
security clearance instead of examining the suitability of
individual candidates.
Other, more recent soft, but hard-edged barriers, are
put up by agents or social movements that actively seek
to promote employment discrimination against citizenPalestinians. These range from calls by Rabbi Chaim
Kenievsky on other yeshivot to fire Arab employees after a
bombing in Yeshivat Harav to Rabbi Dov Lior’s injunction
not to employ Arabs or rent them housing as ways of
fighting against terrorism. More recently, local movements,
such as Hebrew Labor discourage the employment of
Palestinian Arabs in Jewish-owned shops, while others,
such as Lehava seeks to halt intermarriage to prevent
‘assimilation,’ and some of its members firebombed an
Arab-Jewish school.
Veterans enjoy preferential treatment under the 1994
Absorption of Veterans Law that authorizes universities
to prioritize veterans in the allocation of university dorms
and other benefits. Similarly, the Ministry of Construction
and Housing uses among its criteria for loans and grants
to new couples not only length of marriage, number of
siblings, number of children, and location of the home,
but also the duration of each spouse’s military service.
Since the ministry’s declared goal is to help the socioeconomically disadvantaged, military service is an arbitrary
criterion of allocation.
Israel has forbade discrimination by its Labor Exchanges
since 1959. In 1981 it legislated an Equal Employment
Opportunity Law, and in 2008 Israel established the Equal
Employment Opportunity Authority to enforce existing
legislation. Even so, only 2 to 4 percent of the complaints
that reach the Authority seek remedy for discrimination
based on national origin and only a handful of these have
yielded results in favor of the plaintiff. The reason is that
they focus on single instances rather than on the structural
causes of discrimination, which require structural remedies.
It seems that legal and soft barriers, as well as practically
every citizenship framework , can, and have, been used to
discourage or prevent equality or integration of citizenPalestinians into Israeli society. Maintaining separation,
through a top-down centralized national Ministry of
Education plays an important role in upholding an
ethno-nationalist citizenship framework and thus makes
discrimination easier through differential allocation of
resources. Frequently, exclusion and differentiation are
Between 1992 and 1995, when Rabin was prime minister,
based on a notion of republic citizenship that rewards
contribution to the common good. And more recent
decentralized, community-level, multiculturalist policies,
allow for closing of Jewish communities to Arabs who wish
to live in mixed towns.
Jabareen, Yousef T., “Political and Legal Attacks on the
Palestinian-Arab Minority in Israel: Historical Progression,
Current Threats and Future Actions Needed,” Rosa
Luxemburg Stiftung, Tel Aviv, January 2013
Khattab, Nabil & Sami Miaari eds., Palestinians in the
Israeli Labor Market: A Multidisciplinary Approach, New
York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
The rulings of the liberal Barak Supreme Court have done
the most to break the legal barriers to integration. It would
seem that a liberal citizenship incorporation framework,
which uses neutral, individual criteria would be immune
to, and maybe itself be a barrier to discrimination. In fact,
the transition in Israel to a neo-liberal, though frequently
monopolistic, economy led to a particularly high poverty
rate of 19.8 percent compared to OECD states, second only
to Mexico, above the 17.4 percent of the US, and certainty
above the OECD average of 11.1 percent for 2010. Over
time, Israel’s poverty has risen at differential rates: from 18
percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2011, but among Jews the
rise was from 13.9 percent to 14.1 percent while among
Arabs it was especially large, from 47.6 percent to 53.5
percent. A weak welfare state is particularly punishing for
lower-class minorities.
Mada: Arab Center for Applied Social Research, “Israel
and the Palestinian Minority: Political Monitoring Report,”
November-December 2010, No. 12, 2011,
Mossawa Center, “The New Wave of Israel’s
Discriminatory Laws: The Legal Status of Palestinian Arab
Citizens of Israel over the Last Decade,” September 2014,
Or Commission, “National Commission of Inquiry for the
Examination of the Confrontations between the Security
Forces and Israeli Citizens in October 2000,” Jerusalem,
August 2003.
Rouhana, Nadim N. & Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, “Settler
Colonial Citizenship: Conceptualizing the Relationship
Between Israel and Its Palestinian Citizens,” Settler
Colonial Studies, 2014, pp.1-21.
Gershon Shafir is a professor in the department of
sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is
the co-author of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple
Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2002) as well as
co-editor of Lessons and Legacies of the War on Terror:
From Moral Panic to Permanent War (Routledge, 2013)
and Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel (University
of California Press, 2012).
Swaid, Hanna, “Land, Planning and Housing Plight Facing
the Arab Citizens of Israel,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Tel
Aviv, October 2010
Steiner, Talya, Breaking the Inequality: Confronting the
Discrimination of Arabs in the Israeli Labor Market, Israel
Democracy Institute, Jerusalem, May 2013 (in Hebrew)
Recommended Readings:
Tzfadia, Erez, “Abusing Multiculturalism: The Politics of
Recognition and Land Allocation in Israel,” Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space, 2008, Vol. 26, pp.1115-1130.
Adalah, “The Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab
Minority in Israel,” Haifa, March 2011,
Belikoff, Michal & Safa Agabria, “From Deficits and
Dependence to Balanced Budgets and Independence: The
Arab Local Authorities’ Revenue Sources,” Sikkuy & Injaz,
Jerusalem, April 2014
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Which borders will states fight for?
By Nadav Shelef, University of Wisconsin-Madison
This piece appeared on The Monkey Cage on May 18, 2015.
of it becomes the sine qua non of national existence. This is
not to say that the definition of homelands cannot change.
They can.
The Islamic State’s very graphic attempt to redraw borders
in the Middle East has understandably drawn significant
attention. This effort, however, is only one of a number of
attempts to reshape borders in the region. Although the
location of the border between Israel and Palestine (and
Israel’s other neighbors) are the most commonly explored
cases, since World War II border-reshaping projects have
taken place in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, the former United
Arab Republic, Algeria, Iraq and Yemen, among others.
Yet, projects to reshape state borders are not uniquely, or
even primarily, a Middle Eastern phenomenon. Of all new
borders drawn since World War II – excluding borders
drawn as the result of decolonization – 88 percent lie
outside the Middle East.
There are a number of pathways through which the
application of homeland territoriality to a specific parcel
could increase international conflict. As Benjamin Miller
has argued, the existence of homeland territory outside
a nation-state’s borders is likely to increase the domestic
appeal of territorially revisionist forces because it provides
a substantive issue for war and makes it easier for leaders
to initiate international conflict as a way of diverting
attention from domestic political challenges.
Relatedly, the successful application of homeland
territoriality to territory may be part of what renders it
apparently indivisible. Since populations that lost parts of
their homeland are more likely to reject the legitimacy of
the territorial status quo, they may be more likely to use
force to change it if given the ability and opportunity to
do so. Their irredentism, in turn, threatens the territorial
integrity of their neighbors and intensifies the security
dilemma in the region, making violent conflict even more
likely. Finally, the centrality of homelands in nationalist
thinking also makes homelands a likely focal point for
collective action. This means that the loss of homeland
territory would lower the barrier to violent collective
action by acting as a focal point that leads members of a
nation to believe that others would act with them if they
seek its return.
Given the recurring attempts to end conflict by dividing
territory and the consistent finding that conflicts over
territory are especially long, brutal and destructive, what is
the likely impact of border reordering projects? My recent
research, forthcoming in International Organization,
finds that the link between territorial division and
international conflict is mediated by the ideological
meaning populations invest in the divided territory. Where
populations believe territory that is newly located on the
other side of an international border is appropriately part
of their national homeland, violent international conflict
is significantly more likely. Conversely, where and when
states lose territory that is excluded from the scope of the
national homeland, international conflict is less likely. Not
all territory, in other words, is equal ground.
Fully exploring these plausible mechanisms, however,
requires a prior demonstration that homelands, despite
their socially constructed and apparently ethereal
character, do have an independent impact on international
conflict. To date, this has been not been demonstrated
because of the persistent gap between the realist
and materialist measures frequently used to identify
“homelands” and the constructivist underpinnings of the
This research understands homelands to be products of
nationalist political projects rather than objectively given
realities. Yet, regardless of the reason for the identification
of a particular parcel as the “home”land, once defined
as such, the territory in question is transformed into an
indispensable part of the nation’s self-identity and control
intuition that homeland territory plays a different role
than non-homeland territory in conflict. To address this
gap, I developed an operationalization of the “homeland”
status of a territory that is based on domestic discourse
about land. Since this is a constructivist measure that
operationalizes the way theories of nationalism understand
homelands, it enables a sincere test of the constructivist
expectation that losing homeland territory would lead to
more conflict than losing non-homeland territory.
populations consider part of their homeland.
Following the insight that discourse about homeland
territory would differ from discourse about non-homeland
territory, I coded land on the other side of a new
international border as homeland territory if states, state
executives or the leaders of political organizations in the
state newly excluded from that territory flagged it as part of
their homeland. Specifically, I coded territory as homeland
territory if these actors lamented its loss as a loss of part of
the “homeland,” “fatherland” or “motherland,” if they called
for its “unification” or “reunification” with the metropole,
if they described the territorial division in invidious terms
as a “partition” or an “amputation” or if they described
the presence of another state on that territory as an
“occupation.” In each case, I conducted a search for the
name or names, along with alternative transliterations,
of the territory in question, as well as of major cities or
significant historical sites in those territories, and of the
border itself, to capture as much discourse about that
territory as possible.
This measure of the homeland status of territory is based
on the observation that nationalists sanctify the area
that they consider to be their homeland and commonly
use different language to speak of homeland and nonhomeland territories. The rhetorical differences between
how homeland and non-homeland territories are spoken of
generate an instantly recognizable logo that penetrates the
popular imagination and forms a powerful emblem for the
nation. It also makes determining a territory’s homeland
status for a given population possible. A discourse-based
measure of the homeland status of territory also has
the advantage of delinking homeland status from other
dimensions of nationalism (most prominently ethnicity)
and allowing the homeland status of particular territories
to vary over time and within a nation.
Coding the homeland status of divided territory in this
way reveals significant variation in both the homeland
status of adjacent territory that is lost and in the presence
of international conflict. Violent international conflict
following the drawing of a new international border
occurred 43 percent of the time when homelands were not
truncated, but 61 percent of the time when they were. The
pattern persists for wars, with dyadic wars following the
drawing of new international borders occurring 7 percent
of the time when homelands were not truncated, but 19
percent of the time when they were.
I used the domestic discourse about territory captured
by the U.S. government’s Foreign Broadcast Information
Service (FBIS) to identify the homeland status of
territory in the case of every new international border
drawn between 1945 and 1996 – excluding cases of
decolonization. As a source, FBIS has three main
advantages: 1) it systematically transcribed open source
news broadcasts from almost every country (it excludes
Canada, the United States, Eritrea, Zanzibar, Tanganyika
and the Seychelles) during this period; 2) its records are
searchable by keyword; and 3) it translates all foreign news
broadcasts into English. Because it provides reasonable
access to how actors in nearly every case where a new
border was drawn since 1945 talked about the land on the
other side of this new border, discourse about territory
captured by FBIS provides a feasible and theoretically
consistent proxy for identifying areas that the relevant
Further analysis shows that the role of losing homeland
territory in triggering violent international conflict
persists even after controlling for other elements that
could potentially account for the presence of homeland
discourse about a territory and for conflict. These other
elements include prior conflict, the presence of co-ethnics
on the other side of the border, the economic value of
the territory, the militarily strategic value of the territory,
the regime type of the states facing each other, whether
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
those states are allies and their relative military and
economic capabilities. Changing the character of a new
border from one that does not divide homelands to one
that does – while holding all these other variables at their
mean – is associated with a roughly 20 percent increase in
the probability of violent international conflict and an 11
percent increase in the probability of a war between the
states on either side of the border.
dividing homelands tends to lead to additional conflict
should, at the very least, be taken into account when
territorial partitions are considered as potential solutions
to international conflict.
Second, the beliefs of populations about the extent of their
homelands are at least as important as material reality
in shaping the likelihood of international conflict. This
research provides a template for how such ideological
constructs could be integrated into systematic, quantitative
studies of international conflict while maintaining fidelity
to the constructivist theories that identify ideology as a
relevant variable.
So what does this mean? First, while the results of this
study confirm the repeated finding that territory plays a
significant role in international conflict, they suggest that
not all territory is equally important. Rather, territory
that is defined by a group’s nationalism as part of the
homeland is especially conflict prone. These results raise
the possibility that the commonly observed relationship
between territory and conflict may be driven by a subset
of territorial disputes - those over homelands - rather
than by territory, per se. In policy terms, the finding that
Nadav Shelef is the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of
Israel Studies and an associate professor of political
science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the
author of “Evolving Nationalism: Homeland, Religion and
Identity in Israel” (Cornell University Press, 2010).
Whose Colonialism?
The Contested Memory of the Sykes-Picot Agreement
By Meghan Tinsley, Boston University
In memory of Daryl Carr.
national borders. A content analysis of Daesh propaganda
videos, eleven Middle Eastern newspapers, and eight
British and French newspapers illuminates the place that
each nationalist narrative affords to the past.
The violent emergence of Daesh1 in Middle Eastern
geopolitics has brought unprecedented attention to
the Sykes-Picot Agreement2. Yet since June 2014, this
notorious Anglo-French agreement has proven open to
interpretation, as competing actors have referenced early
twentieth-century history in support of particular national
configurations. The exploitation of Sykes-Picot by various
stakeholders—nationalist and pan-Arabist, religious and
secular, Middle Eastern and European—demonstrates the
importance of memory in establishing the legitimacy of
Nations and Nationalism
Nationalism is understood here as a modern ideal that
originated in Western Europe, gained international
credibility as an intellectual concept in the twentieth
century, and is now widely associated with the
fundamental right of groups to pursue self-determination
through statehood (Calhoun 1993; Tilly 1990). The
nationalism of every society is constructed discursively, by
actors with competing interests and unevenly distributed
power (Zubrzycki 2010:514). Further, nationalism takes
on numerous meanings, and holds varying degrees of
legitimacy, as it is imposed, or interpreted, in regions
beyond Western Europe. Thus, a major goal of nationalists
is to unify their fragmented constituencies politically and/
or culturally (Hayes 1960; Kedourie 1960; Weber 1976). To
that end, memory plays a powerful role.
the border. In “Kaser al Hudud”, one militant provides an
“Alhamdulillah. Today we are happy to participate
in destroying the borders placed by the tawaghit to
prevent the Muslims from traveling in their lands. The
tawaghit broke up the Islamic Khilafah and made it
into countries like Syria and Iraq, ruled by man-made
laws. Alhamdulillah, Allah blessed the mujahidin with
destruction of these borders. . . Alhamdulillah, today we
begin the final stage after the Ummah was divided. . . Their
plot was to divide and conquer. That is what they had done
with us.”
Memory and the Usable Past
The relationship of a political actor to the past is shaped
by the actor’s goals in the present (Filler 1947). To that
end, governments, advocates, and dissidents identify a
“usable past” as the basis for a particular set of knowledge,
beliefs, sympathies, and judgments (Moeller 2001; Warner
1975[1959]). A particular event may be remembered,
forgotten, or reinterpreted in order to grant legitimacy to
a new actor. In each case, the usable past either appeals
to or undermines the collective memory (Kertzer 1989;
Mamdani 1996; Rich 1988). The contested character of
memory—and, by extension, of nationalism—within and
across societies is evident with regard to the Sykes-Picot
For Daesh, the Sykes-Picot Agreement represents
the fragmentation of the Middle East, which, further,
represents the division of the global Muslim community
and the imposition of the secular nation-state. By
extension, the destruction of the border represents the
reunification of the Muslim world under the rule of God.
Sykes-Picot stands in for the ensemble of early twentiethcentury decisions regarding the national borders of
the Middle East, just as its signatories stand in for all
Westerners who have intervened in the Middle East
As the voice-over proclaims in “Kaser al Hudud”, “The
ember of jihad was lit, the Crusade campaign was broken,
and the Islamic State was established despite the villainous.
America left in humiliation, dragging behind it tails of
failure, while broken and defeated. It left the map for the
Islamic State to redraw the world in accordance with the
methodology of the prophetic Khilafah.” Here, the SykesPicot border is equated with European Christian Crusades
and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The significance of
the Sykes-Picot Agreement is thus symbolic as well as
geopolitical for Daesh: it provides a tangible line that
stands in for centuries of abstract affronts.
On June 29, 2014, Daesh released a fifteen-minute Englishlanguage propaganda video, entitled “The End of SykesPicot”. Along with its Arabic-language counterpart, “Kaser
al Hudud” (“The Breaking of the Borders”), the video
depicts bulldozers destroying the earthen wall between
Iraq and Syria, symbolically creating a single country.
Enjoying unprecedented international media attention,
Daesh chose this action as the focal point of its propaganda
campaign (the videos were supplemented with a photo
campaign called “Smashing the Sykes-Picot Border” and
a Twitter hashtag, #SykesPicotOver). By this point, Daesh
was active in both Iraq and Syria, and had captured Mosul
and Tikrit, yet its most widely disseminated propaganda
campaign to date chose to highlight the destruction of
Middle Eastern Media3
The Syrian government historically has condemned the
Sykes-Picot Agreement and supported the inclusion of
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
British and French Media4
Lebanon within Syria. However, since the rise of Daesh,
Syrian President Bashar al Assad—along with former
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, and current Prime
Minister Haider al Abadi—has been silent regarding
the Agreement. Yet popular print media across the
Middle East has actively participated in the conversation
surrounding “The End of Sykes-Picot”.
Like their Syrian and Iraqi counterparts, British Prime
Minister David Cameron and French President François
Hollande have been silent regarding Daesh’s use of the
Sykes-Picot Agreement (both have vocally attacked
Daesh itself), and have exhibited little interest in actively
reshaping the borders of the Middle East (Gause 2014).
The mainstream print media in each country, however,
has addressed this issue in depth. In their representations
of Sykes-Picot, the mainstream press is strikingly critical
of the British and French role. Typically, when SykesPicot is introduced in an article, it is followed by a brief
parenthetical explanation of the Agreement’s date, actors,
and the fact that it “divided the Middle East”. Commentary
on the Agreement and its legacies virtually never calls for
the maintenance of the status quo; rather, it acknowledges
the artificial character of the current borders (“Where the
Wrong Beard Can Mean Death”, The Times; “Les frontières
coloniales éffacées par la poussée des djihadistes”, Le
Figaro), and it most often accepts that their erasure is
inevitable (“A Powerful and Merciless Force Has Emerged
on the World Stage”, The Daily Telegraph). Where the
authors call for a different successor to the Sykes-Picot
borders, they advocate smaller, ethnic-specific polities
(“Quel avenir pour les Kurdes?”, Le Figaro). No article in
the eight papers surveyed attempts to defend the SykesPicot borders, or the governments that forged them.
In contrast to the Middle Eastern papers, which take a
pragmatic standpoint, the British and French papers are
more likely to make abstract claims about the legacies of
the Agreement—a stance that reflects the two countries’
present, more removed position with regard to the Middle
East rather than their role in the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
The media’s perspectives are multifaceted; however, some
common threads can be identified. Mainstream papers
reject the Daesh narrative that advocates destroying
national borders (even if they acknowledge that Daesh
is succeeding), and typically argue for maintaining the
existing borders. Yet given that the sources include
government mouthpieces, supporters of pan-Arabism,
and one Israeli paper, justifications for this stance are
unsurprisingly eclectic. Journalists offer one of three
general perspectives: first, some argue that the SykesPicot borders have gained legitimacy since 1916 through
the consent and lived experiences of the local population,
and through the sanctions of international organizations
(“Despite Jihadist Drive, Mideast Colonial Borders Seem
Intact”, Daily Star; “Syria’s Steadfastness Foiled Designs
Perpetrated against the Region”, Syria Times). Second,
and conversely, some argue that Sykes-Picot is no longer
relevant because the local population is indifferent to the
origins of the borders (“Local Sentiments, As Always,
Will Shape the Middle East”, Jordan Times). Third, some
claim that the alternative to the existing borders is not
self-determination, but another set of artificial borders and
authoritarian leaders (“Lines of the Game: Sykes-Picot is
Dead”, Al Ahkbar). These findings are in line with Miles’
(2014) assessment of the resilience of the Sykes-Picot order.
An important exception is Ekurd Daily, an Iraqi Kurdish
newspaper that depicts the Kurds as the primary victims
of the Sykes-Picot borders and calls on international
actors to actively support the redrawing of national
borders. Running through these diverse perspectives is a
general pragmatism: while the Sykes-Picot Agreement is
condemned as a colonial intrusion into Middle Eastern
politics (a stance consistent with pan-Arabist sympathies),
much more important to the papers’ assessments is its
impact on the contemporary population.
Remembering the Usable Past: Implications for NationBuilding
For Daesh, the Sykes-Picot Agreement is a crucial
component of the usable past. The memory of Sykes-Picot,
which stands in for the memory of humiliation generally,
shapes Daesh’s “national” narrative—even as it purports
to reject the “idol of nationalism”, it mirrors the nationalist
practice of disseminating a particular set of beliefs, moral
judgments, and lessons from history. In “The End of
Sykes-Picot”, a member of Daesh proclaims, “We are not
here to fight for the earth, or for the imaginary border of
Sykes and Picot. We’re not here fighting to replace an Arab
taghut with a Western taghut. Rather, our jihad is loftier
and higher. We’re fighting to make the word of Allah the
Popular discourse throughout the Middle East attempts
to undermine Daesh’s national narrative in the interest
of existing states’ legitimacy. Thus, for most of the media
outlets surveyed, Sykes-Picot is not usable; rather, these
voices diminish its role in establishing and maintaining
the status quo. Taking a pragmatic stance, some media
outlets do not claim to theorize the nation-state; however,
by emphasizing international legitimacy and contemporary
lived experience rather than the usable past, they simply
privilege different (but equally important) components of
Filler, L. 1947. “America and Its ‘Usable Past’.” The Antioch
Review 7(3):336-344.)
The British and French popular discourse, while
concurring with Daesh that the Sykes-Picot borders are
artificial, breaks from the militant group by upholding
the conventional definition of the nation-state. Because
Middle Eastern states are not unified by culture, ethnicity,
or consent, the argument goes, they are not nation-states
and thus are not legitimate. Consequently, their seemingly
radical rejection of the existing borders is actually an
affirmation of the Western model of nationhood and a call
for its application to the Middle East—a far cry from the
Khilafah that Daesh has proclaimed.
Hayes, C.J.H. 1960. Nationalism: A Religion. New York:
Barr, J. 2012. A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle
for the Middle East, 1914-1918. New York: W.W. Norton &
Calhoun, C. 1993. “Nationalism and Ethnicity.” Annual
Review of Sociology 19:211-239.
Fromkin, D. 1989. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the
Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle
East. New York: Henry Holt & Co.
Gause, F.G. III. 2014. “Is This the End of Sykes-Picot?” The
Monkey Cage 20 May. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Kedourie, E. 1960. Nationalism. New York: Praeger.
Kertzer, D. 1989. Ritual, Politics, and Power. New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press.
Mamdani, M. 1996. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary
Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Miles, W.F.S. 2014. “The Islamic State Won’t Find It Easy
to Wipe Away Post-colonial Borders”. The Monkey Cage
10 September. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/
Moeller, R.G. 2001. War Stories: The Search for a Usable
Past in the Federal Republic of Germany. Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Rich, P.B. “British Imperial Decline and the Forging of
English Patriotic Memory, c1918-1968.” 1988. History of
European Ideas 9(6):659-680.
1 Given the plethora of names ascribed to the militant
group in question—among them Islamic State, the Islamic
State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and the Islamic State in
Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), I refer to the group throughout
this paper as Daesh, the term most widely used in the
Arabic- and French-language press.
Tilly, C. 1990. Coercion, Capital and European States AD
990-1990. Oxford: Blackwell.
Warner, W.L. 1975[1959]. “The Past Made Present and
Perfect.” Pp. 156-225 in The Living and the Dead: A Study
of the Symbolic Life of Americans. Greenwhich, CT:
Greenwood Press.
2 Officially termed the Asia Minor Agreement, but
colloquially called the Sykes-Picot Agreement, this formed
a general understanding (rather than a treaty with fixed
terms) of British and French interests in the Middle East,
which were concretized in the San Remo Agreement of
1920. Consequently, this paper uses the terms “agreement”
and “understanding” rather than “treaty” to refer to SykesPicot.
Weber, E. 1976. Peasants into Frenchmen: The
Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914. Palo Alto, CA:
Stanford University Press.
Zubrzycki, G. 2010. “National Culture, National Identity,
and the Culture(s) of the Nation.” Pp. 514-525 in Sociology
of Culture: A Handbook, edited by L. Grindstaff, J.R. Hall
and M. Lo. New York: Routledge.
3 Data is drawn from an online search for the term
“Sykes-Picot” between June 2014 and January 2015 in the
following papers: Daily Star (Lebanon), Ekurd Daily (Iraq),
Gulf News (UAE), Iraqi News (Iraq), Jerusalem Post (Israel),
Jordan Times (Jordan), Al Monitor (pan-Middle East),
Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia), Syria Times (Syria), Syrian
Arab News Agency (Syria), and Your Middle East (panMiddle East).
4 Data is drawn from an online search for the term
“Sykes-Picot” between June 2014 and January 2015 in the
following papers: The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Daily
Telegraph, and The Times of London (UK); and Le Figaro,
Libération, Le Monde, and Le Parisien (France).
Redefining the Kurdish nation
By Nicole F. Watts, San Francisco State University
This piece appeared on The Monkey Cage on February 27,
Kurdish rule relative to the rest of Iraq. Further, disattaching this symbolically crucial geography from the
Sulaimani province of which it has been part can be seen
as further evidence of the changing balance of power
between the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
and the once influential Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
(PUK) that until recently controlled the northeastern part
of autonomous Kurdistan.
But Halabja-as-province is also significant as a story
of ordinary Kurds’ pushback against the tight hold of
both these parties over political and economic life in
the Kurdistan region. Designating Halabja a province
was among demonstrators’ key demands in the 2006
protest that destroyed the Halabja Monument of
Martyrs, and politicians visiting the city had found
themselves remonstrated again and again by local people
demanding not just better services and infrastructure but
a decentralization of power that would grant Halabja more
say over its own affairs and how its symbolic legacy of
suffering would be used.
University students march to support pro-democracy
demonstrations in Sulaimani, March 2011.
(Nicole F. Watts)
In early February, Kurdish lawmakers gathered in a special
parliamentary session to put the final touches on plans
to designate Halabja the fourth official province in the
Kurdistan region of Iraq. News reports quoted Youssef
Muhammad, speaker of the Kurdish parliament, as saying
that making Halabja and its environs a province would
“heal some of the wounds that Halabja has been carrying
as they will run their province by themselves and for
themselves.” Halabja, a town of around 100,000 people
about eight miles from the Iraqi-Iranian border, was
bombed by Iraqi warplanes on March 16, 1988, killing an
estimated 5,000 people in one of the worst single chemical
gas attacks of civilians of the 20th century.
More fundamentally, what is happening in Halabja
demonstrates that even amid a new “Kurdification” of
the Middle East political map, there are many Kurds
demanding governance that goes beyond a simple ethnic
rationale for rule. Kurds in northern Iraq struggled for
decades to gain autonomy from Baghdad; in recent
years thousands have taken to the streets in Halabja,
Sulaimani, Ranya, and other towns and cities to challenge
their own Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and
its two leading parties. This politics of dissent does not
reject Kurdish nationalist principles but, rather, seeks to
redefine them in ways that offer ordinary people more
influence over the resources of Kurdish state- and nationbuilding. As Halabja’s province campaign demonstrates,
such redefinitions insist on the relevance of localized
identities and experiences and on the necessity of the rule
of law and good governance. At root, activists’ efforts
The decision to make Halabja a province is striking
for many reasons. First, it is a symbol of survival
and reconstruction in the face of brutal repression.
Additionally, it expands the administrative scope of
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
involve broadening and deepening understandings of the
Kurdish national interest so that it involves how Kurds
govern themselves as much as it does protecting them
from Baghdad, the Islamic State group, and other real or
potential regional threats.
that involved multi-cultural governance of one sort or
another. But the often-repressive policies of the region’s
states have encouraged many Kurds to conclude that only
ethnic Kurds are fit – or can be trusted – to rule, and
those who offer alternative ideas about how to imagine
community and citizenship have found themselves
marginalized. Increasingly, Kurds around the region see
the only viable framework for governance as one based on
principles of Kurdish ethno-nationalism.
Support for Kurdish nationalism is particularly apparent
in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where Baghdad’s policies
of forced re-settlement, chemical gas attacks and mass
killings long ago lost it any claim to credibly represent
its Kurdish citizens. Kurdish nationalism in this context
can be summed up as a belief that there is a Kurdish
nation and in the sanctity of a Kurdish national culture;
in the idea that Kurds have the dominant if not exclusive
claim to the territory governed by the KRG; and in the
widespread agreement that the KRG, whatever its faults,
is the appropriate governing manifestation of the Kurdish
community in northern Iraq. Such support has been
evidenced in many ways including high voter turnout in
regional elections for the Kurdish government (generally
70 percent or higher) and, for instance, an unofficial 2005
referendum in which, given a choice between remaining
part of Iraq or becoming independent, 98 percent of
those questioned supported Kurdish independence. The
prioritization of specifically Kurdish interests – and deep
fears that the violence and instability of the rest of Iraq
would infect Kurdistan – also manifested itself in the 2014
anti-Arab protests and outbreaks of violence in Erbil city.
Though quickly and firmly quashed by Kurdish political
authorities, who have also made significant longer-term
efforts to offer protection and services to Arab refugees,
they highlighted the Kurdish ethno-national underpinnings
of popular perceptions of who is entitled to live in the area,
and who belongs.
Children in Halabja play on abandoned Iraqi army tanks
left on display outside the Halabja Monument of Martyrs,
March 2014. (Nicole F. Watts)
Many analysts have commented on the challenge to postWorld War I order and existing state boundaries. Such
challenges come not only from Islamic State forces but also
from Kurdish groups constructing distinctly Kurdish zones
of governance across the Middle East, producing a new
congruence between political and cultural boundaries. The
KRG in northern Iraq has been legally sanctioned as an
autonomous governing entity since 2005. Kurdish-majority
areas of northern and northeastern Syria have been
governed since 2012 as three de facto autonomous cantons
collectively referred to by Kurds as Rojava, or Syrian
Kurdistan. Even in Turkey, where the central government
fiercely resists decentralization and many Kurds still
support the Turkish state, local and national elections show
the Kurdish-majority provinces of the country at clear odds
with political sympathies in the rest of the country.
This Kurdistan-ization of the political map has occurred
not only because of wars and weak states but also because
of shifts in internal political dynamics among Kurds
themselves. Nationalist rhetoric to the contrary, Kurds
have never uniformly supported Kurdish independence
and throughout the 20th century participated in a variety
of political projects (socialist, Islamist, democratic, etc.)
However, while Iraqi Kurdish citizens endorse the
Kurdification of the map, they are not necessarily pleased
with how that process is happening. This dissatisfaction
has manifested in extra-institutional and conventional
opposition politics that, unlike in the past, do not target
the central regime in Baghdad but the KRG. Throughout
the last decade activists have taken to the street to
demonstrate against corruption; for better services and
infrastructure; in support of press freedoms; to challenge
a more restrictive demonstration law; on behalf of the
handicapped; against oil exploration; in support of fiscal
transparency; and to call for democratization. In particular,
activists and critics have demanded the disentanglement
of party and state, and a more merit-based system of
allocating jobs, contracts and other resources. In early
2011 the region saw its own version of the Arab Spring
protests when demonstrators in Sulaimani occupied the
city’s central square for two months. Activists called on the
government to resign and for substantial reforms to the
party, Gorran (Movement for Change), founded in 2009
through a schism within the PUK. Running on a reformist
platform, Gorran won nearly a quarter of the seats in
the 2009 elections for the Kurdistan National Assembly,
and in the September 2013 elections it won the secondhighest number of seats, surpassing the PUK, and in 2014
becoming a governing partner. Gorran played a prominent
role in both instigating and supporting the 2011 protests,
although the Sulaimani city demonstrations went well
beyond Gorran to involve many different clusters of
students, religious leaders, civic groups, intellectuals and
other activists, along with other opposition parties such as
the Kurdistan Islamic Union.
The vast majority of these activists and reformists are not
seeking to challenge the Kurdish national underpinnings
of governance or dismantle the KRG. This is clear from
party platforms, election results, public opinion polls,
and in the rhetoric and framing of dissent. Even among
seasoned activists and critics of the regime, Kurdish
leaders such as Barzani still command significant affection
and loyalty for their role in the nationalist struggle,
capable leadership, and commitment to the Kurdish
cause. Rather, criticism of the KRG has revolved around
three main issues: the distribution of material and
economic resources, with demands for better services,
less corruption and nepotism, and more equitable access
to the resources of the state and public institutions; rulemaking and rights, as demonstrated in campaigns and
protests concerning human rights violations,laws, and
the KRG’s much delayed draft constitution; and national
memory, and how the Kurdish cause is represented and
commemorated. To address these concerns, activists and
opposition figures have sought to shift the foundations of
the Kurdish national project from the charismatic basis of
leadership in the nationalist struggle to a system based on
rights and rules, institutionalization, accountability and
Several points about these protests stand out. The first is
the geo-political basis of protest: Dissent against the KRG
has been much more common in Sulaimani province
(including Halabja) than elsewhere in the region. This is
due to a number of factors including the erosion of PUK
authority across Sulaimani, its traditional stronghold,
which opened up the political arena there; to differences
in the political culture and state-society relations of
Sulaimani, on the one hand, versus Erbil and Duhok,
on the other; and because the latter two provinces are
dominated by the powerful Kurdistan Democratic Party
(KDP) of KRG President Masoud Barzani, which also
exercises tight control over security in these provinces.
A second point is that – within these geographic
parameters – such protests have been broadly inclusive,
involving both Islamist and secular opposition, as well
as people from different socio-economic classes. They
have also been largely nonviolent. Third, street protests
have been sustained and augmented in the last decade
by institutional developments that have provided a new
capacity for mobilization. These include the growth
of a vocal opposition and independent media and of
social media sites, especially Facebook; the emergence
of non-governmental organizations operating more
independent of the political parties; and, in particular,
the creation and electoral success of a new opposition
Recent protests and campaigns highlight two dimensions
along which activists seek to reshape the state- and nationbuilding project in Iraqi Kurdistan. The first dimension is
a national one. The 2011 Sulaimani protests constituted a
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
watershed in Kurdish political life because they were the
first serious mass protests calling for national (Kurdish),
systemic reform, focusing in particular on the need
for an end to corruption, for more fiscal and political
accountability and transparency, and for an end to the
party-state. Activists framed reforming the KRG as a
patriotic duty, and the 10 people who died in the course
of the protests were depicted as a new kind of national
martyr. This effort to reconfigure the framework of Kurdish
governance was strengthened by Gorran’s electoral
victories and forcefully promoted in the opposition and
independent media. Though broken up forcefully by
Kurdish security forces in mid-April, the demonstrations
significantly re-shaped the national conversation about
power and the nature of political authority.
accusing them of exploiting the city’s suffering and of
neglecting the development and reconstruction of the city.
In 2014 the commemoration ceremony was organized
for the first time by local civic groups rather than by the
parties, and tens of thousands of local people took to
the streets to both remember their dead and celebrate
Halabja’s designation as a province.
The second dimension of alternative state- and nationbuilding is one that seeks to incorporate localized interests
into the homogenizing narrative prevalent in Kurdish
national discourse. To some degree this was evident even
in the Sulaimani protests, which can be seen as a general
effort to reform the system but also as a particularly
Sulaimani-based challenge. But it is in sites such as Halabja
that the effort to reconstitute Kurdish national identity
as simultaneously national (or even supra-national) and
locally distinctive is most striking. This is both because
of the high level of activism there and also because of
the central role that Iraq’s 1988 attack on Halabja plays
in the construction of the Kurdish national mythos. On
the one hand, “Halabja” has become discursive shorthand
for the suffering of all Kurds and a kind of cornerstone
legitimating the need for Kurdish self-rule. On the other
hand, Halabja has often exhibited quite distinctive political
interests and a high level of independent mindedness.
Though it has a history of support for Islamist politics,
electoral results for Halabja show it beyond the control
of any one group: Its voters tend to split their votes fairly
evenly between a number of different parties. Halabjans
have also frequently taken to the streets. Certainly one
of the earliest and most striking examples was the 2006
demonstration at the Halabja Monument of Martyrs,
when activists argued party officials had lost their right to
organize the annual commemoration at the monument,
A banner is hung at the graveyard in Halabja at the 2014
annual ceremony commemorating the victims of the 1988
chemical gassing of the city. (Nicole F. Watts)
Both the ceremony and the province campaign can be
read as successful local efforts to wrest control of Halabja’s
symbolic and material resources away from the parties,
and to redefine Halabja as both part of but also distinct
from the Kurdish national project. In their support for
the province campaign, activists and politicians invoked
several frames that highlight this juxtaposition. These
included a national frame: “since Saddam Hussein tried
to wipe Halabja off the face of the map, the KRG and the
community ought to upgrade Halabja’s status by making
it a province;” a localist-legal frame that justified Halabja’s
designation as a province by alluding to earlier proposals
to make it a province and by reference to what is depicted
as Halabja’s distinctive and illustrious past; and a good
governance rationale that suggested Halabja would benefit
economically and politically if it were locally governed,
with budgets controlled at the ground level and not
through Sulaimani. Such narratives highlight the ways
Halabjans have tried to situate the city as both within and
distinct from the national project – as both central to its
mythos and yet distinctive in its needs and experiences.
Although some neighboring towns designated for inclusion
in the new province grumbled (and themselves took to the
streets in protest), and despite internal consternation from
the Sulaimani-based PUK and Gorran at the administrative
loss of control, the symbolic leverage commanded by
Halabja made it very difficult for any politician to refuse
this localized form of self-determination.
That ordinary people living under the KRG are seeking
to redefine ideas about what is in the Kurdish national
interest is important for several reasons. First, most
basically, it complicates overly simplistic accounts of the
region that map political preferences neatly over the top
of religious and ethnic groups (“Kurds versus Arabs” or
“Kurds versus Turks”). Second, the political geography of
dissent and the varying articulations of Kurdish political
interests highlight the relevance of multi-level political
dynamics in the Kurdish north. How Kurds do politics
– and the nature of those politics – is not just a factor of
Erbil’s relations with Baghdad or other external players
but is also contingent on the give and take between these
internal forces. Third, activists’ efforts to make Kurdish
authorities more accountable and efforts by the Kurdish
leadership to respond, even partially, to some of these
concerns demonstrates how the balance of power between
rulers and ruled can shift, even in conditions of political
insecurity. Somewhat counter intuitively, this case suggests
that a broad consensus on the nationalist undergirding of
state-making can in some ways facilitate democratization,
because the fact that nearly all Kurds in the Kurdistan
region agree on “the basic rules of the game” means the
struggle over the nature of governance and the distribution
of resources is not seen by the various players as a zerosum game. Broad support for Kurdish self-determination
may thus allow for a shift toward a more multi-faceted
and ground-up conceptualization of the Kurdish national
The politics of dissent under the KRG demonstrates how
Kurds are re-thinking nationalism and the meaning of
national governance. Such reconsiderations are in fact
taking place across geographic Kurdistan as people in
Turkey, Syria and elsewhere re-visit classic conceptions
of top-down, national state-building and experiment
with notions of “democratic autonomy” and micro-level
governance structures. However, such considerations of
ground-up governance interact uneasily with existing party
structures, which tend to be hierarchical and intolerant
of internal dissent, as well as with the unifying imperative
of national state-building. That this tension has been
manifested quite publicly in the Kurdistan region of Iraq
is due in part to the existence of a legally sanctioned
governing entity – the KRG – and the traditional parties’
neo-liberal, patrimonial ways of doing business, which
have given the opposition movement a clear target. The
public contestations over the nature of Kurdish state- and
nation-building have also been possible because Kurdish
authorities have succeeded in providing a sufficiently stable
“form” of Kurdish governance to allow for the emergence
of concern over the substance of this rule.
Nicole F. Watts is a professor in the department of political
science at San Francisco State University.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
Sectarianism and authoritarianism in Kuwait
By Madeleine Wells, George Washington University
The prominent Kuwaiti Shiite lawyer and former member
of parliament Khaled al-Shatti was arrested April 2 after
posting tweets critical of the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s
fight against the Houthis in Yemen. His tweets suggested
that the Houthis – Yemeni Shiite rebels supported though
not controlled by Iran – are growing in power.
Indeed, analysts have warned that a Saudi-led war on the
Zaydi Shiite Houthis could devolve into a proxy war with
Iran and further sectarianize the Middle East. The fact that
Arab Sunni states have entered a coalition to fight a Shiite
non-state actor in Yemen allegedly backed by Iran would,
indeed, seem to be evidence of sectarianism. But sometimes
what looks like sectarianism and regional ethnic hatreds
is actually just good old domestic politics. As Marc Lynch
argued in a 2013 Project on Middle East Political Science
symposium, “The sectarian narrative radically exaggerates
both the coherence of the ‘Sunni’ side of the conflict and
the novelty of a long-standing power struggle with Iran. It is
better understood as a justification for domestic repression
and regional power plays than as an explanation for Middle
Eastern regimes’ behavior.” That perspective applies to
Kuwait’s new sectarian tensions as well.
Shatti, who was released on bail April 6, was charged
with challenging the emir, demoralizing Kuwaiti soldiers,
offending the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and threatening
Saudi relations with Kuwait.
His Twitter protest is not the only evidence of discord
against Kuwait’s foreign policy. Seven out of Kuwait’s 10
Shiite parliamentarians (in a body of 50) also criticized
the Kuwaiti Air Force’s participation in Saudi Arabia’s
“Operation Decisive Storm,” on the grounds that it violates
Kuwait’s constitutional prohibition on offensive war.
My dissertation research – which addresses why
governments change their policies toward non-core groups
such as the Shiites of Kuwait – suggests that policies such
as these political arrests actually have very little to do
with their ethno-religious characteristics or even with the
Iranian boogeyman’s growing power in the Gulf. Instead,
they are calculated based upon their oppositional potential.
That is to say, it is not Kuwait’s sectarianism that we must
worry about, but rather its re-emerging authoritarianism.
The crux of the issue is rentier Kuwait’s semi-authoritarian
political structure and the type of dynamic it engenders.
As a semi-constitutional monarchy, the highly mobilized
Kuwaiti body politic can vote in free and fair parliamentary
elections, and the Kuwaiti parliament is unique in the Gulf
for having the power to remove confidence in individual
ministers and override the emir’s veto via majority vote. At
the same time, their choices are ultimately limited by an
appointed cabinet that serves at the discretion of the emir.
This situation leads to a dynamic in which the shape of
the political opposition and the threat it poses to the ruler
are variables of primary importance in how any societal
groups, Sunni or Shiite are treated by their ruler.
Their outspoken protest is unusual and telling: The Shiite
MPs of Kuwait are the only such group in the region
empowered by a positive legacy of regime-minority
relations to take a stand against their government’s
foreign policy on an official, institutional level. This level
of activism is nonetheless surprising even by Kuwaiti
standards. A Kuwaiti political persona tweeting in favor
of the Houthi rebels is shocking and out of the norm of
Shiite actions in Kuwait since the 1990s. And Shiite MPs
taking a stand against the Saudi campaign on any grounds
stands out as quite significant as compared to both the
quiet Shiite activists in neighboring Saudi Arabia, who are
worried about local sectarian backlash from the war on the
Houthis rather than contesting the foreign policy itself, and
the more bellicose response of Shiite political factions in
Iraq, who have publicly protested the Saudi campaign and
even had one MP offer to send fighters to defend Yemen.
Sectarianism has been getting worse in the Gulf, and many
analysts generally conceive of this as an international process.
The Shiites of Kuwait, who make up 25 to 30 percent of the
population, have a unique place in national and regional
history. Recent work by Fred Wehrey, Laurence Louer
and Toby Matthiesen demonstrates how Kuwait has long
stood out for having the most amicable sectarian relations
in the Gulf, especially as compared to its neighbors, Saudi
Arabia and Bahrain. With very few exceptions – such as
proportional access to mosques and staffing in high-level
defense and interior positions – Kuwaiti Shiites have equal
access to the large coterie of welfare benefits offered by the
rentier state, including free health care, education, public
sector jobs and state subsidized fuel and housing. They
are nationalistic and loyal toward their government and
feel central to the state’s history and its quest for survival.
As such, with the exception of the 1980s – when, inspired
by the Iranian revolution, a small group of Kuwaiti Shiites
began to push for political reforms, including for Shiite
equality, and were institutionally excluded and sometimesviolently repressed – Kuwaiti Shiites have most often
been accommodated or co-opted by their government.
The times when Kuwait did appear to be sectarian, it
was usually doing so for reasons of managing political
constitutional terms, demonstrating the extent to which
they fear being perceived as going outside the norms of
their political system.
What has changed since that would lead Kuwait to join
with its Arab allies in a potentially controversial and
sectarian cause that could rock the boat with its Shiite
allies at home? The answer is that Kuwait, along with many
of its neighbors, has become more authoritarian in the
aftermath of the region-wide and domestic uprisings that
started in late 2010. The ruling elites of the Sabah family
are reeling from the cross-class Islamist-tribal-youth
coalition that has only intensified its demands for political
reform since the Arab Spring, in addition to intra-family
factionalism and allegations of coup plotting. To deal with
this situation, Kuwait has revived some unique ways of
stemming the ongoing opposition movement. In 2014, over
30 people were deported and stripped of their citizenship
for supposedly undermining the country’s security. Most
recently, at least 18 people were reportedly arrested at an
March 23 anti-government protest, including regional
human rights defender Nawaf al-Hendal, who had
addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council only
three days earlier. Hendal has since been released but his
case has been referred to Kuwait’s Criminal Court.
In the 2000s, despite the perceived regional growth and
threat of Iran’s power after the fall of Saddam Hussein
in Iraq in 2003, the Kuwaiti regime did not repress its
Shiite citizens but instead offered them more religious
accommodation. In many cases, the Sabah ruling family
has continued to defend the confessional group against
growing societal and parliamentary Islamist and tribal
sectarianism. Only four years ago, when Saudi Arabia
sent troops to Bahrain to aid the Bahraini government
in suppressing its Shiite-led Arab Spring, the Kuwaiti
government decided not to send ground forces. Rather, it
ended up sending a largely symbolic naval force instead,
likely because the emir was highly sensitive to how its
participation might impact Shiite allies in the government.
In 2012, the Shiites briefly held 17 seats in parliament, the
highest number ever, as a result of an opposition boycott
of elections. Likewise, Shiite MPs seem to know their
place in Kuwaiti Politics. Even their recent protest against
Kuwait joining the Saudi coalition was carefully framed in
More importantly, in the past few months it has become
clear that there is not only a red line for Kuwaitis criticizing
the emir, but a taboo on criticizing Kuwait’s regional allies
as well. Several other Kuwaitis who have criticized the
Saudi regime or involved themselves in public domestic
opposition campaigns have been targeted as well. Shatti
was joined by Shiite writer and academic Salah al-Fadhli,
who was also arrested for speaking out about Yemen.
Another Shiite MP, Abdulhameed Dashti is awaiting
trial for criticizing the Bahraini government, and former
Sunni MP Mubarak al-Duweileh was questioned over his
criticism of the rulers of Abu Dhabi. Kuwait is not out
of the norm for suddenly prosecuting regional dissent –
Bahrainis criticizing the Saudi campaign in Yemen were
immediately arrested, too. This regional criminalization
of dissent is something that has been facilitated by the
Gulf Cooperation Council’s Security Pact, which Kuwait
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
was the last state to sign. The pact has given legal means
for the persecuting of opposition forces all over the Gulf,
ostensibly on security terms. As Madawi al-Rasheed
explains, “Meant to enhance security for economic
development and stability of GCC countries, the pact has
now tuned into creating cross-border controls, evacuating
the Arab Gulf of dissent and eliminating safe havens for
dissidents of one country in another one.”
the Houthi cause is one part of this larger authoritarian
whole. Shatti’s tweets were outside the bounds of what
he was allowed to do as part of a co-opted minority with
traditionally good relations to the ruler, but also what
is expected of him as a citizen of a beleaguered semiauthoritarian regime. As such, he has been bluntly told
to stay out of oppositional and regional politics and go
back to his lane. As one Kuwaiti source told me about
the incident, after Shatti’s release, “He’s out, but they are
keeping him close.” The question now is, will he and his cosectarians stay there?
The Kuwaiti crackdown on Sunni and Shiite dissent
alike reveals that if anything, the regime does share a
strong threat perception with the rest of the GCC, but
that it perceives its biggest transnational threat not from
Iran, but from the diffusion of democratic movements
that may uproot its allied Gulf leaders. Indeed, Saudi
itself has partially framed the campaign on Yemen this
way – emphasizing its intent to restore Yemen’s elected
president to power – in addition to rolling back ostensible
Iranian gains in the region. The arrest of Shiites who
speak publically about Saudi Arabia’s Yemen campaign,
as sectarian as it looks on a superficial level, must thus
be seen within the overall context of the progressive
tightening of domestic security by a continually stressed
Kuwaiti regime.
The answer is a bit of a catch 22. It depends on whether or
not societal and regional anti-Shiite sentiment continues
to burn from the spark the Saudis ignited. On the one
hand, Kuwait’s participation in the invasion of Yemen
may be just the catalyst its Shiite citizens need to move
away from their longstanding alliance with the Sabah
family. The semi-authoritarian Kuwaiti system that gave
them the same freedom to criticize Kuwaiti foreign
policy in constitutional, legitimate terms may offer
them the opening they need. This would mean an even
more formidable and further cross-cutting opposition
to the Kuwaiti government and could perhaps augur for
real political change. On the other hand, the Kuwaiti
tribal-Islamist opposition has in the last decade become
increasingly sectarian itself. This makes it likely the
Shiites will continue to stand by the Kuwaiti regime in
spite of their underlying disagreement with its foreign
policies and lack of reform because they have no other
alternative source of protection. In this sense, Saudi-driven
sectarianism in the region seems to have inadvertently
reinforced Kuwaiti authoritarianism as well.
In this light, regime-Shiite relations have more to do with
how formidable the political opposition is becoming in
the Gulf and the shared regional threat of empowered
domestic constituents than any single other factor. It’s
not sectarianism, but authoritarianism. It is the internal
threats to Gulf regimes like Kuwait, driven by their lack
of meaningful reform in the last decade, that drives Gulf
regimes to internationalize domestic problems in terms
of “security” and sometimes “sect” (read: Iran) in order
to distort and drive focus away from meaningful, local
grievances. Regime treatment of Shatti for supporting
Madeleine Wells is a PhD candidate in political science at
the George Washington University.
Islam and Islamists in the 2014 Tunisian elections
By Elizabeth L. Young, University of Michigan
While the Arab Spring protests were primarily framed
around issues of economic inequality, dignity, and
political inclusiveness, the role of Islam in political life has
emerged as a central issue in the region leading to further
political stability with the coup that removed the Muslim
Brotherhood from government in Egypt and the Islamic
State’s expansion and destabilization throughout the
region, most recently in Libya. Tunisia, with the successful
completion of not one, but three elections this past fall,
has justifiably been held up as a model for democratic
transition. However, we shouldn’t forget too quickly
that Tunisia faced, albeit to a lesser extent, many of the
same issues that undermined neighboring governments:
attempts from non-Islamist political players to nullify
Islamist electoral gains and increasing support for Salafijihadist, anti-state activities. By fall 2013, the exact path of
Tunisia’s transition was in question with the assassination
of two political opposition figures in six months, increasing
terrorist activities, an attempt to remove Ennahda from
government, and the constitution and electoral law still not
as a move toward the normalization of religious discourse
in Tunisia and basis on which the country will refocus
on other central issues, most importantly the economy,
regional disparities, and security.
Religion and the Political Landscape Prior
to the 2014 Elections
While survey data indicates that Tunisian citizens are far
more concerned with economic and security issues than
with questions of religion and identity,1 highly publicized
conflicts involving the role of Islam in public life seemed
to dominate the Tunisian landscape following the 2011
overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisia faced the
challenge of an increasingly diverse religious landscape.
Following the Jasmine Revolution, prisoners, including
Nahdawi Islamists and Salafis, were released and Tunisia
faced an initially unregulated field of religious groups
and discourses that had previously been banned. For
several months the Ministry of Religious Affairs worked to
replace many Imams, both those appointed by Ben Ali and
Salafis who had gained control of mosques following the
revolution. There were a number of public confrontations
on the role of Islam in public life including what could be
shown on television and whether the previously banned
niqab, a headscarf that exposes only the eyes, could be
worn in the classroom.
Given the political instabilities the country faced, the
successful elections held last year are all the more
impressive as political leaders worked to find a consensus
to move Tunisia out of political deadlock. However, the
electoral campaigns also revel an emerging consensus on
how to address the role of political Islam in Tunisia. The
press coverage leading up to the 2014 Tunisian presidential
and parliamentary elections, framed the elections as
competition between Islamists and secularists, an
oversimplified binary that has been rightfully challenged.
While broad societal divisions do indeed exist, the
elections were notable for the degree to which there was a
convergence of discourse on religion and politics with the
Islamist Ennahda de-emphasizing its religious character
and the “secular” Nidaa Tounes making a concerted effort
to highlight its religious credentials during the electoral
campaigns. Below I discuss the electoral campaign rhetoric
By summer 2013, many Tunisians had lost confidence
in the Troika-government, a coalition of Ennahada and
two secular parties, due to increasing economic issues,
the protracted constitutional drafting period, and a belief
that Ennahda was too soft on terrorism and the activities
of the Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia, which resulted in
attacks on Tunisian security forces and the assassination of
leftist political leader Chokri Belaid the previous February.
1 International Republican Institute. 2014. Survey of Tunisian Public
Opinion: June 22 – July 1, 2014.
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
The Tamrod protest movement and July 2013 coup in
Egypt sparked organized demonstrations in Tunisia
demanding that the government step down. In this already
charged atmosphere, the assassination of opposition
leader Mohamed Brahmi on July 25, allegedly by Ansar
al-Sharia, led to public demonstrations against the Troikagovernment, a parliamentary walk-out, and a five-month
political deadlock. Only with the Troika’s agreement to
step down from ministry positions, but not from elected
parliamentary seats, was Tunisia able to finalize the
constitution and pass the electoral law to pave the way for
presidential and parliamentary elections.
banning of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has focused
on itself presenting itself as a mainstream political party
rather than as an Islamist political party. In addition to this
mainstreaming, the party affirmed both before and after
the election its willingness to continue working with other
parties, including Nidaa Tounes.
In contrast, Nidaa Tounes made concerted efforts to
emphasize its Islamic credentials, and in particular
Tunisian Islamic credentials, throughout the campaign. In
contrast to Ennahda’s public program that deemphasized
religion, Nidaa Tounes issued a 20-page platform on
religious issues that critiqued the Troika’s actions,
particularly the relationship between Ennahda and the
Ministry of Religious Affairs, and put forward its own
platform. In its foreword, then-presidential candidate Beji
Caid Essebsi drew a distinction between two opposing
views on Islam. The first, represented by Nidaa Tounes, is
“an authentic, national view based on ijtihad, renewal, and
reform” is contrasted with a second view of Islam “based
on tradition, inertia, violence, and terrorism,”4 which the
campaign associated with Salafi-jihadism that Ennahda
failed to stem.
The 2014 Election Campaign
Early on the legislative election was framed as a showdown
between “Islamist” Ennahda and “secular” Nidaa Tounes,
which ultimately won and 69 and 89 seats in the 217-seat
parliament. However, despite the highly charged political
environment that preceded the elections, each campaign
to some extent rejected these labels and both parties tried
to portray themselves as Islamic without necessarily being
Islamist. While it is not a surprise that each party might
seek to expand its level of support, the degree of overlap
that emerged in their discourse is surprising.
This discourse of Tunisian Islam as a particularly pluralistic
and moderate practice has been utilized by multiple
political actors ranging from former President Habib
Bourguiba to members of Ennahda to Nidaa Tounes.
During the election, Nidaa Tounes and Essebsi sought
associate themselves with this tradition. Nidaa Tounes held
a rally in front of the Uqba Mosque in Kairouan, Tunisia’s
most important religious site, and Essebsi made a highly
publicized visit to an important Sufi saint’s tomb in Tunis
where he received the endorsement of the brotherhood.
Additionally, Essebsi presented himself publically as the
political and ideological heir of Bourguiba, going so far as
to launch his presidential bid at Bourguiba’s mausoleum in
Monastir and to imitate Bourguiba’s dress and mannerisms
throughout the campaign.
Ennahda’s campaign focused on portraying the party as
a responsible, consensus-oriented actor that shepherded
the country through a difficult period of institutional
change. For example, Ennahda’s political platform had no
significant identifiably-Islamist element, with the exception
of promoting the development of Islamic banking options.2
Compared to the 2011 program, the 2014 program made
subtler references to Tunisia’s Islamic heritage than its
predecessor, which listed the importance of “Islam as a
supreme reference point” in the platform.3 This is not to
indicate the religion or religious identity is less important
to the party or its voters, but that Ennahda, unsurprisingly
in the wake of both political tensions in Tunisia and the
With this convergence in electoral rhetoric, the
2 Ennahda. 2014. Ennahda Political Electoral Programme 2015-2020: A
Rising Economy. A Secure Country.
3 Ennahda. 2011. Ennahda Movement Programme: For Freedom, Justice
and Development in Tunisia.
4 3, Nidaa Tounes. 2014. Nidaa Tounes’ Program on Religions Issues.
parliamentary campaigns focused primarily on issues
of economic growth and security. This isn’t to say that
fundamental issues on the role of Islam in public and
political life don’t exist. They do. Nidaa Tounes was
founded following the 2011 elections in direct opposition
to Ennahda’s electoral victory. There are many constituents
of Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes that see the other party as
an existential threat to Tunisia’s future, including Nidaa
Tounes supporters who view Ennahda as responsible for
past terrorist attacks and a danger to the country’s civil
nature, and Ennahda supporters who see Nidaa Tounes as
a continuation of the former dictatorships that jailed and
exiled any dissidents.
issue with both Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes largely echoing
each other on the centrality of a moderate, reformist,
national Tunisian Islam to counter violent extremism.
Rather than being monopolized by Islamists alone, this
discourse is being normalized by major political actors
who have shifted their attention to more immediately
pressing public issues such as improving the economy and
national security.
Second, Ennahda made the strategic choice to actively try
to become part of a unity government and not to remain
in the opposition. During the presidential elections,
Ennahda, looking to play the long game, declined to
support a presidential candidate, which left open the
possibility of becoming party of the government, which
it did in February, albeit with only one full ministerial
portfolio. Additionally, in December, the newly elected
Assembly of the People’s Representatives met for the first
time and elected its leadership. Mohamed Nasri, the vice
president of Nidaa Tounes, ran uncontested as speaker,
and Abdelfattah Mourou of Ennahda was elected as deputy
speaker with 137 of 217 votes, an outcome not possible
without support of the other party.
These divisions have not been wiped away, instead, as
evidenced by the political rhetoric during the electoral
campaigns these issues are not as immediately pressing
as economic and security issues. However, they can and
will emerge at points of tension as evidenced during the
presidential campaign. Discussion of Islam, became even
less pronounced during the first-round of the presidential
elections, in which Ennahda had decided not to field a
candidate. However, in a radio interview immediately
following the first, presidential round, Essebsi accused
his competitor in the run-off, then-incumbent President
Moncef Marzouki, of only making it to the second round
due to the support of Islamists, Salafi-jihadists, and those
prone to violence, a pointed criticism that Marzouki’s
second place finish was a result of Ennahda supporters
choosing to support him in the absence of an Islamist
candidate. Essebsi’s comments sparked a wave of protests
and rioting in southern Tunisia, where Marzouki and
Ennahda had their largest bases of support.
However, Ennahda’s long-term vision of ensuring its future
role in politics, particularly its willingness to participate
in government with members of the former regime
that persecuted the Ennahda, has alienated some of its
base supporters who view the potential partnership as a
portrayal of the party’s values. Additionally, during the
elections numerous Ennahda supporters not only voted
for Marzouki, but also mobilized to campaign for him and
to act as candidate agents on election day. This experience
could result in former Ennahda supporters being more
willing or prepared to support a party other than Ennahda
in future elections. Later this year Ennahda will hold its
party congress and current leader Rachid Ghannouchi has
hinted that he many not run again for party leadership,
which could pave the way for significant changes within
the party.
Islam and Islamist Politics Following the 2014 Elections
Essebsi’s comments reveal an underlying tension over
competing views of society that is unlikely to diminish in
the immediate future. However, there are several signs
that it is becoming a less important or explosive issue
than it was in the period leading up to the elections. First,
as mentioned previously, we can see this in the broad
convergence of discourse that parties used surrounding the
However, while religion seems to be deemphasized in the
current political landscape, the elections revealed three
Rethinking Nation and Nationalism
other societal divisions that will be critical in addressing
during the current political mandate. First, political actors
must address the disenchantment of Tunisian youth with
politics. Throughout the country observers noted that
youth, the drivers of the revolution, voted in startlingly
low numbers. Second, regionalism, more than religion,
became the major societal divide during the presidential
elections with the more economically-prosperous coastal
and northern regions supporting Essebsi and the more
economically marginalized south voting for Marzouki.
Both campaigns emphasized the need to develop the
interior regions and now must follow through. Third,
the competition between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda
and between Essebsi and Marzouki highlighted the
tensions between figures representing the old regime and
revolutionary ideals. Even with these tensions, the current
government must find solutions to address the pressing
issues of economic development and especially terrorism
as the Islamic State expands in Libya and as Tunisians who
left to fight in Syria return to Tunisia.
Elizabeth L. Young is a PhD candidate in the sociology
department at the University of Michigan.
The Project on Middle East Political Science
The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) is a collaborative network that aims to increase
the impact of political scientists specializing in the study of the Middle East in the public sphere and in
the academic community. POMEPS, directed by Marc Lynch, is based at the Institute for Middle East
Studies at the George Washington University and is supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York
and the Henry Luce Foundation. For more information, see http://www.pomeps.org.